That Obama Speech, or, Expunging the Stupid Use of Words

Wow, that was sure some socialist speech Obama gave yesterday, huh? I went to pick up Athena from school, and all the kids marched out of building, singing “The Internationale” and clutching copies of the children’s illustrated edition of Das Kapital, distributed by smiling members of Young People’s Socialist League. Truly, it’s a new day in America, comrades!

Alternately, Obama gave a pleasant, platitudinous and largely bland speech exhorting the kids to, you know, stay in school and study hard and respect their teachers, and everyone who got all wound up that the President of the United States would have the gall to address the nation’s school children when he’s a socialist now looks like a complete jackass.

To be sure, they looked like complete jackasses before the speech, but now that the man’s actually done the deed, people feel more comfortable saying so. One wonders why they felt they had to wait; perhaps they were expecting this least spontaneous of all recent presidents to have the head of Eugene Debs erupt from his collarbone, take control of his body, and snatch and bloodily consume members of the audience while howling about the Pullman Strike. It did not happen, unless the live television cameras of the liberal media were somehow able to mask the gory sight of Obama Possessed By Undead Eugene Debs feasting on the tender young bodies of our nation’s youth. WHICH THEY MIGHT HAVE.

Seriously now, how much longer do any of us have to pretend that the sort of people bleating about Our Socialist President aren’t, in fact, ignorant as chicken, or mad as hatters, or as madly ignorant as chicken hatters? I’ve already noted that we’re well past the point where anyone still barfing up the “Obama is a Socialist” meme deserves a “tool” sign over their head; I propose we go further and call them morons. Because, at this point, if you’re still calling the man a “socialist,” that’s what you are. Want to call Obama a Democrat? Well, that’s what he is. Want to call him a liberal? It’s not out of line to do so, although I suspect he’s closer to what we’d call moderate these days. Want to call him a progressive? Actual progressives will argue the point with you, but if you’re on the right, anything left of John McCain counts as progessive, so, fine.

Call Obama a socialist? You’re a fucking moron.

You know who don’t think Obama is a socialist? Socialists, that’s who. “We know, of course, that Obama is not a socialist, and that he is not a radical,” wrote Dave McReynolds, in the pages of The Socialist, which, if you don’t know, is the magazine of the Socialist Party USA, and McReynolds a two-time presidential candidate for that party. Yes, I know, it’s wacky to rely in this matter on the assessment of someone who is both a socialist and a Socialist, rather than, say, someone belonging to a tribe of political thinkers whose understanding of socialism is so screwed up that many of them apparently can’t tell the difference between socialism and fascism. But you know what, I think I’m going to do that anyway. Words actually mean things, and despite persistent attempts by many on the right to make it so, “socialism” does not mean either “any government activity that is not a tax cut or an attempt to kill swarthy people with weapons” or “whatever it is Obama happens to be doing at the moment.”

Now, I may not be able to do anything about anyone else tolerating the “Obama is a socialist” canard elsewhere, but I can do something about it here. So: Henceforth, anyone who comes around here blathering about how Obama is a socialist (or any of its various cognates) is signaling to me that they’re either ignorant or a troll. If it’s the former, I may give them a small bit of leeway to learn their terms; if it’s the latter, however, well then. They run the risk of what I do to trolls, which is that I delete them for trolling, and make fun of them while I do it.

This is not to say that one is no longer allowed to criticize Obama or his policies here — really, please do. Nor is it to say one can’t speak of (or criticize) socialism here. But playing the “Obama = socialist” card is your sign to me that in fact, you’re not serious, nor are you interested in the exchange of ideas — what you’re interested in doing is crapping out an idiotic talking point that has no basis in reality, because someone who is either ignorant or deceiving told you so, and you feel you must further spread the ignorance. And you know what? I don’t have time for that right now.

So, Obama opponents, either find a better and more accurate way here to voice your opposition to the president and his policies than diving for the “socialist” button, or run the risk of being expunged for being a moron, and having me laugh at you while I do it. I’m tired of it, here and everywhere else, but especially here. Please, Obama opponents, be smarter. The nation, its president, its people and its discourse, deserve better.

229 thoughts on “That Obama Speech, or, Expunging the Stupid Use of Words

  1. Regarding Obama’s spontaneity, I think he learned very well the lesson about paying attention to ANYTHING that comes out of your mouth. Last time he made an apparently unconsidered remark, he was dragged through broken glass for calling the actions of a police officer stupid.

  2. Indeed, I think we should stop it with the Obama=socialist crap, coming as it does from people who can’t be bothered with things like dictionaries, and focus on the important things, like the Night Ranger contest.

  3. Wow! John, I LOVE your writing and I hate that the first time I post to you site I’m going to disagree with you to some degree.

    While I don’t believe that Obama is a Socialist, I believe that some of his policies are in fact Socialist. Most of his agenda leans slightly left, but when he tries to place portions of the economy under government control there is no other word for that policy except socialist.

    I don’t think I’m a fucking moron and I’m certainly not a right wing nut, I’m a Libertarian and I see the socialist portion of his agenda as wrong. I don’t think that makes me a fucking moron.

    On another point, I think the problem most people had with Obama speaking to the school kid was that the plan was for them to write a paper about “How I can Help the President Accomplish his Goals”. If you as a parent disagree with the goals, this can be a problem. Since that was not included, I don’t see how anyone could have still had a problem with the speech.

  4. Elgion:

    “when he tries to place portions of the economy under government control there is no other word for that policy except socialist.”

    By this thinking, however, any governmental regulation or intervention in the economy is “socialist.” And that’s a pretty expansive definition of the term, and not one that’s generally accepted (and one expects, especially by actual socialists).

    I agree there’s a problem in that many people seem to have a binary vocabulary when it comes to economics, but the solution to that is not to default to the word “socialist” for anything short of an utterly unregulated market; the answer is to understand there are intermediary terms, and to use them accurately.

  5. Gee, I don’t know…. Seems to me that President Obama is primarily a Politician (in a neutral sense of that word, though I’ve been known to use it as an insult).

    Beyond that, I think he _could_ be called a (lower-case initial) “socialist” in that he seems (it’s difficult to tell with politicians) to believe that society — the co-interactions of the people within a group, in order to benefit the group as a whole — is important and needs to be cherished and cultivated.

    Many of us who are Certified Old Geezers who consider ourselves Independent Individualists find it difficult to disagree with that attitude. And some of us are stubborn enough to reject the right-wingers’ use of “socialist = Evil personified”.

    But yeah, certainly, by Socialists, Mr. Obama is no Socialist. By me, he’s not Progressive or even particularly Liberal. *sigh*

  6. I believe the “portions of the economy” Elgion is primarily referring to are GM and Chrysler. I’m an Obama supporter, and while federal involvement in these two companies may indeed turn out to be a costly mistake, I think the decision to do so was made because of the justifiable conclusion that if the companies were to simply fail suddenly, the economy would take much longer to recover as a whole, and when it did so, the domestically owned auto manufacturing sector would never again be more than a fraction of what it had been.

    [Personally, I have no loyalty to the products of GM or Chrysler (or Ford), and moreover I hope that the manufacturing base will increasingly involve energy conservation technology and not be so dependent on car and truck manufacture, but it's not possible to convert production so quickly, except perhaps in the event of a crisis on the order of the Second World War.]

  7. Don Fitch:

    Yeah, but that’s basically using a definition of “socialist” that doesn’t have anything to do with the accepted use of “socialist” in a political or economic sense. It’s like me saying that if by “socialist” we mean “someone who likes to be social,” then I’m a socialist.

  8. But he’s a giant socialist who’s going to force us all to have medical coverage and then how will evolution ever work? Not that evolution exists, you know, because the world was made in 6 days, 6000 years ago. But Obama’s a Muslim, so he doesn’t believe in that.
    [/stupid]

    Thank you for this post. I’m glad to see there seems to be an increasing groundswell of people who are saying, “We don’t need to be polite and nice and tolerant of batshit insane ignoramuses. It’s okay to call them out.”

  9. You’ve got it all wrong John. We only got that bland unoffensive speech yesterday *because* the morons called him out on his socialist agenda before he gave the speech. They saved us all. Had Obama given his speech as originally planned, Obama’s secret black police force would be busy today rounding up conservatives and delivering them to re-education camps.

    I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.

  10. akeeyu: I love that clip, and it’s so accurate when it comes to these discussions.

    There’s a certain lack of critical thought in America these days, no one seems willing to make the effort to know what they’re talking about before they’re talking about it. The whole Obama = Socialist thing is a prime example.

    It’s too bad so many people are allowing themselves to be led like sheep by the Limbaugh’s and Beck’s of the right wing.

  11. I imagine these were the same people that gasped in shock when Michelle Obama wore *shorts and a tank* on her *vacation*, on a *hot summer day*. Right.

  12. Watching people calling Obama a socialist is both baffling and kinda funny when seen from Norway. We actually have a lot of socialists to compare him to. Taking a look at his economic policies, and the policies of our social democratic government, Obama would certainly qualify as a right winger.

  13. Can we call him a communist? He did acquire a huge insurance company, a bunch of banks, about half of the mortgages in the country, and 69,000 useless cubes of metal for the government. That’s communism right? 8P

    (My son liked the speech. He was aghast when we told him some parents kept their children home to avoid hearing it.)

  14. John:
    You are right; I probably shouldn’t have used a universal qualifier such as “any”. Using that allowed me to get painted into a corner. I should have cited examples. Gottacook had it right; I was referring to the GM and Chrysler take over and I was also referring to the Healthcare (for the most part – trying not to get caught again).

    I understand that there are many shades of economics, but I don’t know what to call these two specific programs/projects. I’m not trying to be difficult, but what would you call them if not socialist?

  15. Ahem. Another analogy which may or may not be useful: it would be tempting to say that John Scalzi is a Confucianist because he wants to rectify a certain faulty use of the word “socialist”, and it may call to mind the Confucianist “Rectification of Names”.

    But before jumping so to conclusions, we should first ascertain if he also promotes ritualism in governement, ancestor worship and so on!

    Ditto with Obama and economic policies…

  16. I wrote a little vent on my Facebook page the other day similar to this. America continues to prove its stunningly depressing education rankings and why better-educated countries think we’re a bunch of arrogant, toothless idiots every time it even insinuates that our President is a Socialist.

    I know Socialists. I’ve worked with Socialists. And President Obama, you are no Socialist. ;)

    Great blog, btw. My first time here. It won’t be my last.

  17. I think what kills me the most is when the people demonizing Obama’s “Socialist” mentality are professing a Christian faith, without realizing that “take care of the widows and orphans” thing Jesus was talking about pretty much falls into the same catagory.

    The early church pooled their resources together to make sure the believers were fed, clothed, and the poor taken care of. I mean, those Socialist bastards! I bet they’re all going to burn in Hell, am I right?

    Oh, wait…

    I agree that there is a lot of stupid going around lately.

  18. Some people just need an -ism label to stick on Them, that’s all. Doesn’t matter if it’s an accurate reflection of reality, as long as it’s an emotionally satisfying little sticky for the “Not Us” file drawer in their teeny-tiny brains.

  19. There’s something very, very fundamental missing in these discussions of socialism that are all the rage these days: Socialism is a matter of degrees. There’s no such thing as an economy that’s purely socialist, just like there’s no such thing as an economy that’s purely capitalist. Neither are possible.

    So if you even have to ask the question, “Is someone a socialist?” then I think you’re missing the mark. Especially if you think you have an answer!

    A more constructive question (arguably…) might be, “How socialist does so-and-so want this country to become?”

    I think you’re doing a good thing with this rule, John. Not the most tactful approach, but really the level of debate on socialism in the public arena is nothing more than political poo-throwing… (and it’s your blog, after all)

  20. Gee, John, don’t hold back; tell us how you really feel :)

    You made a good point (actually, quite a number of them, but I’m focusing on just one here) about the unfortunate tendency of some people to have a binary vocabulary when it comes to political economics.

    Then again, an inability to appreciate or articulate nuance often strikes me as a sign of shallow thinking, and having a quick and easy way of identifying shallow thinkers can be useful :).

  21. We do seem to have a pretty poor vocabulary for how to describe middle of the road policies like “Don’t let people starve in the streets” or “We really should be doing something about the infant mortality rate.”

    I suggest pragmatic, but I think that’s way too reasonable. Never get any air time.

  22. Elgion:

    Re: the GM and Chrysler takeovers, I look at them as emergency interventions, not a genuine attempt by the government to nationalize an industry. Note a) that the leaders of GM/Chrysler desired the intervention, b) that the US’ role since the reorg of both companies has largely been one of a silent partner rather than one of active management, and that I as I understand it the goal is for the government to offload its stake in both companies as soon as fiscally prudent. None of which smacks of socialism, which would to my mind mean active management and an intent to continue ownership.

    Re: Healthcare, neither does it appear that the government is attempting a wholesale nationalization of the insurance or medical industries, although if a public option becomes available it will certainly mean the government will compete in some form with public insurers. The major components of most health care proposals to date, however, are more regulation and oversight, which are not in themselves socialist features.

  23. I wanted to comment and tell you how much I liked your post, but then I realized that this was just more SOCIALIST TRICKERY.

    Come on, Scalzi. Everybody here knows you’re just a socialist covering up for another socialist by using the words of a third socialist.

    Seriously, though, Rebecca, I totally agree. Jesus was an irrepressible socialist. Twice he says that, if you want to follow him, you have to give up everything you own. (But both quotes are, I believe, located in the Gospel of Luke: so that’s an easy fix. Just cut it!)

    I never once remember Jesus saying, “You know what, hand outs are bad. I fucking hate it when people give shit away. That’s wrong, man. And you know what else it is? Fucking fascist.”

    But maybe he did. I don’t know. I haven’t read the whole Bible. That thing’s longer than The Stand!

  24. Greg, that just made me laugh out loud.

    Seriously! Didn’t Jesus ever think that the world would be better if those freeloading widows and orphans would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? :P

    So lazy!

  25. @28 – Interestingly, the one time Jesus really raged out was at a bunch of capitalists–in the financial sector no less!–doing their thing on the ground of the Temple.

  26. “There’s a certain lack of critical thought in America these days, no one seems willing to make the effort to know what they’re talking about before they’re talking about it.”

    These days? Look at some history— this has always been the case. Here and abroad.

    This actually isn’t my cynical side talking. I’ve just gone through enough political venom in history to think of the current stuff as pretty mild, considering.

    Oh, and the Christian argument against government intervention is that it displaces the need for the individual to do something about it— and it is a far worthier thing to consciously go out and help the poor than to just assume “it’s being taken care of” in an abstract way. IOW, it’s not nearly enough to say, “There oughtta be a law”; one must go out and help the poor/dispossessed oneself. Not only does it have more merit, it’s far more efficient.

  27. B. Durbin @31

    “Not only does it have more merit, it’s far more efficient.”

    I really, seriously doubt that. Taking on problems like healthcare and poverty seem to me to require resources that only a major entity could organize and bring to bear.

    Or just changes in policy. It’s not bad luck that healthcare in this country costs so much, or that labor unions (read: workers’ rights) have largely gone extinct. These were policy decisions.

  28. Thing is, it goes way beyond the definition of “socialism”. What makes the “Obama == Socialist” meme truly stupid is that there is no way that you can defined “socialist” in a way that fits Obama that doesn’t also fit pretty much every elected official in the US government for the last 75 years with the possible exception of Ron Paul.

    If Obama is “socialist” for the GM bailout than so was Reagan, for he bailed out Chrysler. If Obama is “socialist for “Obamacare”, then so is any politician that ever supported medicare. If Obama is “socialist” for wanting to raise taxes, then so are half the presidents in the list fifty years, who did the same.

  29. I understand that there are many shades of economics, but I don’t know what to call these two specific programs/projects [auto industry bailouts & health care reform]. I’m not trying to be difficult, but what would you call them if not socialist?

    That’s what we call good governance. It may seem weird at first, seeing as how it’s been nearly a decade since we’ve had any. But sometimes, the Government has to step in and perform oversight or custodial duties of certain sectors, especially during economic depressions, to ensure that the entire economy doesn’t sink into the hole left if we were to otherwise let, say, the auto industry go belly up. That’s the reason we have government, so that the entire country doesn’t turn into post-Katrina New Orleans, which is the GOPs grand idea to fix the economy: drown everything in a tub of malfeasance and greed and let the corporations fight over whatever survives. That’s what we call a bad idea, unless you think Somalia or Afghanistan are models to emulate.

    As for health care reform: that’s long overdue. Ours sucks, it costs twice as much to get half of what every other industrial nation has. Once again, this is what government is for: to ensure that necessary social infrastructures (water, education, fire fighting, police, housing, health care, etc.) are maintained for the public good, not abandoned to the private surfdom of corporations, to be distributed only to those who can afford them.

    Socialism, would be if the government put the insurgence companies out of business and told citizens they could only have a public option for health care. Or that all foreign made cars were banned and the new government owned and managed GM would be the only source of cars in the US.

    What Obama is proposing isn’t Socialism. It’s Democracy, if a slightly awkward and poorly implemented form. It just smells weird only because for the last 20 years, we’ve let it rot in a closet in favor of corporate oligarchy. (Which is not to say that corporations aren’t getting a massage from the Obama administration, it just isn’t the full on handjob they were getting from Bush II.)

  30. As a programming geek, I have to point out that both “Obama” and “Socialist” are strings. Therefore, the correct terminology would be

    strcmp(“Obama”, “Socialist”) == 0

    or, in PHP,

    “Obama” === “Socialist”

    Oh god, did I just say that????

  31. My father is a communist (Trotskyist) and worked most of his adult life to bring about a communist revolution through trade union activism (that would be trying to work within unions to make them more radical). In any case, he thinks Obama is basically a corporate whore. I will be going to dad’s 70th birthday soon with many of his socialist brothers and sisters and I can guarantee in advance that no one will claim Obama as part of the movement.

  32. First the snark, even though they may not be your thing. I don’t like you using the word
    TOOL
    to describe the absolute morons that have taken over America’s political discourse; that band deserves better. These are the same people that have appropriated the verb teabagging to signify some sort of political opposition, so it’s really just par for the course.

    Second though, is that living in a social democracy is really just not that bad. In practical terms, you mostly just get a really great safety net for the populace. As a resident in the area formerly known as the DDR, it seems like when socialism is discussed, it is always with this image in mind. Having arrived here with a large number of preconceptions about what life was like here during those times, it has been interesting, to say the least, to talk to people that actually grew up under that regime. Not to try and excuse some of the things that went on, but what is clear is that life then was not A GRINDING HELL. With respect to the social services which were (and some of which still are) available, they had some real advantages (I am thinking specifically of child care, which is much better here in the East than what is currently available in the West. There are other examples, however.). Maybe it’s too late to battle the years of Red Scare which have been inculcated into the minds of Americans, but it would be good to actually hear a balanced view of what social democracies today offer, and then evaluate the effects on the economy of those countries. There are plenty of examples, and some of those people even speak English. I know it’s not sexy, and it’s a heck of a lot more work than screaming epithets you don’t understand, but I think that people could handle it. I like to think that people would actually appreciate the chance to make a reasoned decision.

    Finally, to close this terribly rambling comment, I think it’s fair to argue that common use of the term Socialism or Socialist in the US refers to the whole enchilada, everything about how the government functions. The things that have happened to GM and the banks can be described as being nationalized, under the limitations laid out above. The propositions for health care reform can be said to propose that we move to a more socialized model. But those are -ed words. -ism words are just too wide-bore to be applied appropriately to things like health or economic reform.

  33. Seriously, you guys need to get out more. Head over to Europe (that socialist paradise) and see what real socialism looks/ed like.

    In the UK the govt bailed out the car industry by nationalization (see any of http://www.google.com/search?q=british+leyland+bailout&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t for a detailed discussion). Then Thatcher told us there was “no such thing as society” and gave us 18 years of right wing reganomics to leave us in a position that the current “left wing” government were forced to right of the centrists to get elected with the result that we have declining health care and (higher) education systems.

    One thing we have learned from this is that if you allow the right to set the agenda (by shouting loudest) then you are screwed. In fact it’s odd that the right, who favour hard work and self reliance manage to have the time to attend all of these health care meetings – me, I had to be at work when it was on.

  34. B. Durbin @ #31

    As a Christian, I think both are necessary. Government intervention cannot wipe out poverty. It can, however, provide them with more and better resources.

    I am a Christian, and I believe that healthcare is a fundamental right to which everyone is entitled. (Also, food and shelter, but that’s a different discussion… maybe.) As an individual, I cannot provide it. As a voter, however, I can help elect public officials who support finding a solution to this problem.

    As an individual, however, I can support the poor in other ways. I can offer relationship and whatever resources are available through me, my church and my community. What a world this would be if all the countries of the world united to take care of the least among us, and every person united to take care of those in need in their community.

    I think that as a whole, we need to stop looking at these problems with an us vs. them mentality (the wealthy vs. the poor, Democrats vs. Republicans, Christians vs. non-Christians, etc.) and just realize that we’re all in this together. How can we take care of one another? How can we help provide for the least of us? That was the challenge that Jesus issued to us. We’re all just one catastrophic event away from no healthcare, no food, no home, no support. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    I feel that God has blessed me for a reason, and it wasn’t just to help myself and no one else.

  35. Let’s see, the CBO figures that even with the “Public Option” in the currently floated bill it will cost $1.2 – 1.4 trillion over the next decade. For an industry that currently is at $12.5 trillion a year and rising (to a projected near $20 trillion a year in the next decade, conservatively), that would make the current bill less than 1% of overall healthcare spending. Hmm, sounds like a takeover of the industry to me.

    With that kind of logic, I could become a corporate raider for cheap. “He’s got 56 shares of our stock. OMG, it’s a leveraged buyout.”

  36. With regard to the rhetoric about Obama being socialist, it’s part of a strategy to erode support of a political opponent by characterizing him as extreme and therefore out of touch with the mainstream. This is pretty much business as usual in politics since at least the Clinton administration, since it first became known that you could hit a nerve this way. As well, increasingly extreme language always trumps moderate language, so any nuanced, detailed criticism of the president is going to lose out to a frothy criticism that includes lots of powerful accusations. I hesitate to point this out, but during the Bush administration, I saw plenty of people who accused Bush of being a fascist, with equally poor grounds. I am against this perversion of language and the tactics behind it (aka alienating a public figure as a shortcut around reasoned argument). I just hope that all of the people who are angry about Obama being called a socialist will stop to think the next time they stick a label on someone they disagree with, instead of engaging with what they actually say. I see way too much of that, especially on the internet.

    As to the “Jesus was a socialist” thing, it’s popular but actually not true. Giving money to the poor is not a socialist practice. Jesus was establishing a ministry, not a government, and almsgiving is a practice that transcends cultures and political systems. Moreover, charity is not a tenet of socialism or communism (or capitalism), it’s an exercise of social justice, and as such orthogonal to the political system. When a government gives money to poor people, this is no longer charity, it’s welfare or whatever. Likewise, there is no generic “Christian” argument against socialism, because Christianity is not a system of government or economics. Jesus instructed his followers to pay their taxes, not to overthrow the government as they wanted to do.

    I am really wondering how the discussion got from “People who think Obama is a socialist are stupid” to making fun of Christians and pointing out how dumb they are for not knowing that obviously Jesus was a socialist. Help me, here.

  37. GEEZ people. Was this country founded on the right to have an opposing opinion? Isn’t that what makes America great? I don’t agree that Obama is “socialist” but I certainly don’t agree with everything he’s doing either. And as an American and a veteran, I think I have the freaking right to say so!! And honestly, I think the number of people saying he’s “socialist” is quite limited. I think there is a lot of dissent about how to accomplish specific goals (and who is going to pay for them) and that there should obviously be an open forum for the discussion of the best way to achieve those goals. I disagree with the “crazies” on both the left and the right. I think the majority of the people in this country are comfortably situated somewhere in the middle. I also disagree with trillions of dollars of debt and I believe that more people in this country should have some freaking personal responsibilty. I’m all for taking care of those genuinely in need (the aforementioned widows and orphans for example). But I am absolutely NOT for taking care of the lazy and stupid! Call me a right wing nut if you want.

    John, love most of your posts but just had to say those of us who don’t think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass aren’t all fucking morons!

  38. Lisa:

    “but just had to say those of us who don’t think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass aren’t all fucking morons!”

    I’m not aware of saying anything of the sort. I do wish the ones who weren’t, however, would do a better job wresting the opposing narrative from the ones who are.

    Likewise, I certainly agree that anyone has the right to say whatever they want, about Obama or any other subject. However, that doesn’t mean that others are obliged to take them seriously if they’re spouting nonsense.

  39. “John, love most of your posts but just had to say those of us who don’t think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass aren’t all fucking morons!”

    That, kids, is what we call a “Straw Man.”

  40. Intelligently written with enough humor to keep it from getting boring. Great job but then I guess seeing as you’re a writer and all, it shouldn’t be surprising. :-) I think what impresses me most about your blog is that your commenters write intelligently and humorously as well. I don’t normally read science fiction – the genre just doesn’t interest me in the written form – but I figure I’m going to have to buy some of your books just on principle of loving this blog. Thank you for such an interesting post.

  41. The school I teachn at did not watch the Obama speech. For one thing it we are on block schedule and it was during our lunch block and secondly, we are a high school and I think the speech was more directed at younger kids. We have enough interfearance from the government in our schools to worry aboutn the President speaking to our students, like getting them ready for the high stakes testing in the spring. No Child Left Behind (from President Bush) is a big joke. I wish President Obama would get rid of that and let me go back to REAL teaching!!!

  42. The word everyone seems to be looking for, when they’re randomly tossing around “socialist,” “fascist,” and “communist”?

    “Totalitarian.”

    I think most folks are afraid of any large power-holding body (government, industry, religion, whatever) having total control over what they do: How they live, what they eat, what kind of work they do, etc.

    The popularized images of totalitarianism we’ve been raised on are all associated with fascism, communism or socialism (or at least the words are used in the same breath, which has indelibly linked the two.) So when people start seeing something that smacks of one of those things, they automatically think totalitarianism is the next step.

    Only… That’s really not possible in a Democracy. (And certainly not in the Republic we’re supposed to have.)

    So long as the people have individual votes that count equally, it’s virtually impossible for them to succumb to totalitarianism, unless they vote it in themselves.

    Mere collective control over large institutions (transportation, education, health care, etc.) is NOT totalitarianism. It is… Ehm… Collective control.

    A public option in health care, for instance, is just that: Public ownership of a health care resource. As in we the people own and control this resource. As in it’s not something privately owned and operated by a business (or its shareholders.)

  43. You remember how in Aliens, Ripley is backing out of the queen’s egg chamber with Newt, soldier aliens poised to strike but held at bay as she waves her flamethrower . . . and then Ripley sees one egg peel itself open . . . and then all but says, “Fuck this” as she incinerates the lot?

    The Right’s asinine clamor over this speech was that hatching egg, and your essay, John, is that flamethrower. Thank you for putting these vermin to the rhetorical torch.

  44. Charles @ 50: Given your tenuous grasp on spelling and grammar, I do hope you’re lying about being a teacher.

  45. @#20: I think Scalzi’s secretly an Utter Confucianist. But I’m glad he went to the well on this and cited McReynolds, who by God should know.

  46. @Lisa, for what it’s worth, this is a personal blog, so our right to express our opinions in this venue isn’t up to us. It’s a little bit like being in someone else’s house. They set the rules & code of conduct as long as you’re under that roof. There’s probably a handful of things that someone could say to get kicked out of my house. I’m sure there are a handful of things I could say to get kicked out of your place. Same w/ a personal website.

    Also, John didn’t call everyone “who don’t think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass” a moron. He didn’t even infer it. There’s no sense in seeing insults that aren’t there, is there?

  47. “but just had to say those of us who don’t think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass aren’t all fucking morons!”

    I’d like to think that the criteria for subpar intelligence lay somewhere above the belief that the irradiance of an 870,000 mile wide ball of burning gas somehow finds its way to us by way of our President’s rectum.

  48. Words have meanings. The problem is that they typically have more than one. “socialist” can be either broadly defined as any government intervention in a market, or can be defined more narrowly as a significant takeover of a market. Similarly, “fascist” can be either broadly defined as any cooperation between government and industry — or expression of patriotic fervor, or narrowly defined as palingenetic ultranationalist populism.

    It is undeniable (to any but the least rational) that there is a place for broadly-defined socialism in a culture: schools, roads, health care, environmental protection, and other places where market solutions are not optimal. It is likewise undeniable to any but the most pacifistic that certain of the trappings of fascism are a prerequisite to having a healthy, high-morale military.

    However. In American culture, the primary signifiers of “socialist” and “fascist” are inflammatory: both words are culturally most closely associated with nations we fought wars (cold or otherwise) against. It happens that in both cases, the narrow definitions were accurately applied to those nations (one may quibble about the quality of their actual implementations).

    So, in answer to people like Elgion, it is inflammatory dirty pool, in America, to use either term in its broad sense without explicitly distinguishing it from the narrow definition, because they are words associated with our enemies. It is manipulative and inaccurate; it lies by implication and destroys rational debate.

  49. Tal @ 53
    Sorry about my spelling on my post, I was typing in a hurry. What was wrong with my grammar? I guess that is why I teach American History and not english.

  50. Lisa, “And honestly, I think the number of people saying he’s ‘socialist’ is quite limited.”

    Unfortunately, while limited, it includes many of the conservative standard bearers.

  51. Mathew in Austin,

    That’s a literary device and not meant to be taken literally. Thank you.

    Raj,

    I agree that the what John was saying was not specifically intended as a broad brush stroke insult to everyone who disagrees with Obama’s policies. And I also agree that this is John’s “house” as it were. I appreciate the fact that he actively receives comments and feel certain he is open to comments on both sides of the issue he happens to be discussing.

    John,

    My sentiments exactly. We definitely don’t have to sit idly by if we feel someone else is “spouting nonsense.” That’s the beauty of living in America!!

  52. @22: “The early church pooled their resources together to make sure the believers were fed, clothed, and the poor taken care of. I mean, those Socialist bastards!”

    Private charity is not the same as state socialism, even in the eyes of the most ignorant people. Your comparison is silly.

    @59: “It is undeniable (to any but the least rational) that there is a place for broadly-defined socialism in a culture: schools, roads, health care, environmental protection, and other places where market solutions are not optimal.”

    Three points: First, something is undeniable only if a rigorous demonstration of the conclusion’s validity follows from accepted principles; to my knowledge, no such demonstration of your claim exists. Second, such solutions do not need to be applied at the highest levels of government and probably shouldn’t be. Third, even when people will not produce optimal or even acceptable outcomes through market principles, it doesn’t follow that statism will produce results that are any better.

    Your statements rely on unspoken assumptions for their validity. Try stating them explicitly – you wouldn’t have nearly as bad a case in that situation.

  53. Lisa: “I’m all for taking care of those genuinely in need (the aforementioned widows and orphans for example). But I am absolutely NOT for taking care of the lazy and stupid! Call me a right wing nut if you want.”

    I think we’ve been badgered by a number of stories about those abusing the system. Given the complexity of any system like health care, there is bound to be abuse. The question is where does the line stand. In private health care, the abuse tends to the side of the corporation taking advantage while public health care (as in the VA, Medicare, etc.) is largely from individuals. As a percentage of a whole, the public “cheaters” seem more palatable as they’re a very small percentage of the whole. Private insurers can act more maliciously because they have the means and resources to do it.

    The misconception here is that liberals/progressives don’t want lazy/stupid to contribute to the system, which is completely off base. But it’s unrealistic to believe that some people won’t try and cheat any system they’re given to their advantage…however, the belief is those people will be few and far between.

  54. melendwyr @63

    “First, something is undeniable only if a rigorous demonstration of the conclusion’s validity follows from accepted principles…”

    Uh… what?
    Seriously. Those are all words, but I have no idea what you mean by having them all together in that order.

  55. John – I have these stupid people sitting all around me, corrupting their children to dislike the President because they, the bigotted jerks, do too.

    They’re fairly amazed that he pushed staying in school, and used himself as an example.

    I tell you what, they still don’t like him. Even though he encouraged their children to stay in school and get an education. Probably because it will teach their children to think for themselves.

  56. For the record, As of 1996, Obama was one of three key memebers of the ‘New Party’, a sub-group of the Democratic Socialists of America (the DSA).

    Even though, by 1999, the Socialist ‘New Party’ was essentially defunct after losing a supreme court challenge that ruled the organization’s “fusion” reform platform as unconstitutional.

    It helps to begin by understanding what socialism is not. It isn’t Liberalism and it isn’t mere Leftism. Frankly, those terms (and their opposites) should be jettisoned entirely, because they have become too antiquated to describe 21st Century politics. The political designations of Left and Right date back to the French Revolution, when Revolutionaries sat on the Left side of the French Parliament, and the anti-Revolutionaries sat on the Right. Terms from the internal geography of the French parliament as the ancient regime crumbled are striking inapposite today.

    Likewise, the terms Liberal and Conservative date back to Victorian England, when Liberals were pushing vast social reforms, such as the end of child labor, while Conservatives were all for maintaining a deeply hierarchical status quo. Considering that modern “liberals” are seeking a return to 20th Century socialism, those phrases too scarcely seem like apt descriptors.

    If it were up to me to attach labels to modern political ideologies, I would choose the terms “Individualism” and “Statism.”

    “Individualism” would reflect the Founder’s ideology, which sought to repose as much power as possible in individual citizens, with as little power as possible in the State, especially the federal state.

    The Founder’s had emerged from a long traditional of monarchal and parliamentary statism, and they concluded that, whenever power is concentrated in the government, the individual suffers.

    And what of Statism? Well, there’s already a name for that ideology, and it’s a name that has been firmly attached to President Obama: Socialism.

    And my mom said the political science degree was not good for anything…

  57. Seriously. Those are all words, but I have no idea what you mean by having them all together in that order.

    All I can figure out is that he somehow believes that the simple fact that all modern republics engage in socialism to one degree or another is somehow NOT a demonstration that “there is a place for broadly-defined socialism in a culture”.

    The mind reels. Hell, I can’t even think of a monarchy that doesn’t engage in socialism.

  58. 8. John Scalzi – Yeah, but that’s basically using a definition of “socialist” that doesn’t have anything to do with the accepted use of “socialist” in a political or economic sense. It’s like me saying that if by “socialist” we mean “someone who likes to be social,” then I’m a socialist.

    Oohh – I like to be social, and so does my cat, so both my cat and I are socialists! COOL!

  59. @64: “But it’s unrealistic to believe that some people won’t try and cheat any system they’re given to their advantage… however, the belief is those people will be few and far between.”

    Oh, certainly. There are two problems: first, that belief is insane on its own merits; secondly, the system is going to be set up so as to give special advantages to the groups favored by the powers that set it up.

    It’s human nature to do things like that, and the primary feature of our political system that prevents such abuse of power hasn’t functioned properly for generations. End result: people are going to game the system, and the establishment of the system is going to be gamed.

    As for the use of language:

    “Will you stop saying everything’s crypto-fascist?! You make me sound like I was a complete git!”

    Some people grossly misuse ‘fascism’, others grossly misuse ‘socialism’. I find it difficult to summon enthusiasm for pointing out the stupidity of either of these common errors.

  60. > Unfortunately, while limited, it includes
    > many of the conservative standard bearers.

    The words socialist, fascist, and communist (along with “state run media”) are repeated over and over and over on the Rush/Hannity shows, and they have fairly large audiences.

    If you repeat something long and hard enough, eventually folks will believe it.

    John took umbrage at a post I made long ago in another thread regarding talk radio (which I won’t repeat – and no, I was not given the loving mallet of correction), but I’m starting to feel quite dismayed at whats coming out over the airways these days.

  61. THANK YOU for saying this. It helps those of us (me) that can’t easily put our political thoughts into words without tripping over our own tongues. (I’m one of those that generally frowns but can’t contribute to the conversation because 1. I’m not a quick thinker in oral conversation and 2. when I get frustrated or worked up I stop talking, which generally means I don’t talk a lot. heh. reason #infinity why Sass prefers the intarwebs)

    Anyway, love the post. Much <3

  62. Okay…the lazy are one thing, but…why can’t we take care of the stupid, again? Are we assuming they made themselves stupid on purpose and should therefore wallow? I suppose I’m asking for a definite value of “stupid” in this equation…

  63. lilbase, big, fat *citation needed* here.

    Don’t bother, because Google is our friend. 1996, Obama received an endorsement in Chicago from the DSA, not a member.

    And I think most people would appreciate something other than cut-and-paste arguments from other websites.

  64. lilbase:

    “For the record, As of 1996, Obama was one of three key memebers of the ‘New Party’, a sub-group of the Democratic Socialists of America (the DSA).”

    Leaving aside the fact that the only corroboration for this assertion that I can find come from far right-wing sites, who seem to be conflating a tangential association, the DSA itself does not seem interested in claiming the man:

    Frank Llewellyn, the National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America, the country’s largest socialist organization, said Obama is most definitely not one of them. “He’s not any kind of socialist at all,” Llewellyn told me this week. He called the president “a market guy,” which is hardly a compliment coming from a man with serious reservations about market capitalism.

    “He’s not challenging the power of the corporations,” Llewellyn added. “The banking reforms that have been suggested are not particularly far reaching. He says we must have room for innovation, but we had innovation — look where it got us. So I just…I can’t..I mean it’s laugh out loud, really.”

    That quote’s from today, incidentally.

    Funny how the socialists keeps saying he’s not one of them, despite the protests of those who are not socialists saying he is.

    Also, lilbase, you’ve used up your one “he’s a socialist!” post. Hope you had fun with it. I wasn’t especially impressed with it myself.

  65. for anyone NOT a moron, objecting to the speech was just spin. Moronic spin, come to think of it. I mean… did anything seriously think the US President (least of all a US President noted for his cool head?) was going to pitch policy and promote partisan agenda in a speech to schoolkids? That he was going to say anything BUT “study hard, stay in school,” etc.?

    I personally think George W. Bush was the single worst president in the history of the republic, and I objected to almost every phrase that came out of his mouth during the long, long, LONG years he was on the national stage. Yet even -I- would assume, before hearing it, that a speech from then-President W to school kids, if he had made one, would say only, “Stay in school, study hard, contribute to society.”

    As for an essay about “helping the president,” sure the point is to gets kids to think about civic duty and societal issues, not to formulate a healthcare plan or economic policy?

    People WANT to hate. They WANT to be afraid. It’s the only feasible explanation for such utterly mormonic interpretations of such utterly mundane things.

  66. Practically nothing in Obama’s platform or policies, nor anybody in his cabinet, is particularly “leftist”. Mainstream American politicians seem to come in two flavours: centre-right and far-right, and Obama is the former. Because the American understanding of left vs. right is skewed so far right compared to the rest of the democratic world, we get to hear absolutely idiotic labels like “Obama is a socialist”. (And somehow also a fascist? Explain to me how that works.)

    Also, #34 @Steven Burnap is correct, by Elgion’s definition every government since FDR is “socialist”. Prof. Steven Dutch summarizes it thusly:

    Americans have shown at the polls and in their personal lives they are not willing to exercise fiscal restraint. So beginning with Reagan and Star Wars, Republicans maxed out government spending on things that appealed to Republicans. They spend on the military, on pork in Republican districts, and so on.

  67. Melendwyr @ 63 Third, even when people will not produce optimal or even acceptable outcomes through market principles, it doesn’t follow that statism will produce results that are any better.

    I understand what you’re saying here, and I sort of agree (people who are clueless consumers and thus feed the worst parts of industry are probably going to be clueless voters and thus feed the worst parts of government.)

    However, it’s still better, all other things being equal, for the people to have more direct control over certain critical services, and a democratic government is the only way that’s possible.

    It’s always astonished me that individualist libertarian sorts (as opposed to the fake libertarian “no regulations on business because I want my business to be the next Standard Oil” sorts) would be so eager to, essentially, give up their vote in favor of letting industry have total control.

    Your vote has significantly more power than your wallet, as an individual. There’s no such thing as democracy in private industry. Private industry is, in fact, near exclusively an oligarchy. It isn’t remotely one person, one vote. It’s one share, one vote, and if you don’t have enough shares, you don’t get enough of a vote.

    That also goes for individual consumers, too. If you’re not a high-volume (aka high-income) customer, your wishes are essentially irrelevant.

    And when that happens to a critical service? People suffer and die.

    This is not to say that I’m in favor of total government ownership of industry. Far from it. Regulatory oversight, absolutely, but not ownership. (I’m against the auto bailout, for instance.)

    However, there are certain large-scale essential services that are too critical to normal daily life to give up public control of them. Education, police and fire, transportation, etc. are all things that can bring a country to its knees if they’re not handled correctly. And solely in the hands of private owners, and not voters, the chances of them being handled incorrectly go up exponentially.

  68. OBAMA IS A SMURF!

    He’s just a really tall one. And he wants us all to live in mushrooms with only one chick!

  69. John, did you post this knowing you’d get a certain number of comments saying, “Well, yes, but by *this* definition he really is a socialist!”?

    (stupid hanging quotation mark.)

  70. melendwyr, it seems like you’re saying a lot when you’re not. Ah, the advantages of being sufficiently vague when responding, draped in the language of obfuscation allows you the position of talking down as you see fit. An interesting play of words you have, seemingly full of import yet not really having an ounce of content. Sound and the fury…well, I’m sure you’ve read it.

    However, let’s look at the meat of your last statement:

    “It’s human nature to do things like that, and the primary feature of our political system that prevents such abuse of power hasn’t functioned properly for generations. End result: people are going to game the system, and the establishment of the system is going to be gamed.”

    So the question here is who does the political system favor now. Doesn’t private business hold sway? Isn’t it interesting that the SCOTUS recently sent down a case regarding the “Hillary” political screed ordering it re-argue the case in terms of corporate/union contributions involving political campaigns? (This may look like a straw man, but I think it has relevance to your point about who’s in control of the system).

  71. @78: “However, it’s still better, all other things being equal, for the people to have more direct control over certain critical services, and a democratic government is the only way that’s possible.”

    What? No. Noooooo.

    Democratic governments, most especially representative ones (which is what we are), are intended to isolate people from direct power. It’s one of their features, not one of their bugs. Power is instead concentrated in the system and the people who make the system work.

    Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends entirely on who’s maintaining that system and how they are selected and maintained. The intention of our system was to have a few people with their hands on the controls, with a well-informed and intelligent populace deciding who those people are, and some oligarchic fuses to prevent mass opinion from seizing control. Unfortunately, we’ve become idiots who vote with our desires and our reflexes, so the intention has little resemblance with the result.

    There’s a reason ‘democracy’ originally was a pejorative descriptor for a type of state failure.

  72. Carrie V:

    “John, did you post this knowing you’d get a certain number of comments saying, ‘Well, yes, but by *this* definition he really is a socialist!?’”

    Well, I’m not surprised, no. But equally unsurprising, nearly all of these definitions are not actually socialism.

  73. “And as an American and a veteran, I think I have the freaking right to say so!!”

    Per the Constitution, you have the right for the GOVERNMENT not to interfere with your free speech (with certain exceptions), not the owner of a blog. You have no right to free speech in someone elses house, merely the privilege.

  74. Mike B:

    To be clear, I assumed Lisa knew that this forum was under my direct control, speech-wise, and that she was speaking generally about people’s right to speak their minds.

  75. Melendwyr @ 83: So are you an anarchist, or what?

    Also, you’re sort of right. Technically, we are a representative republic, which is supposed to safeguard us from the problems of mob rule. This is also why we have a Constitution, and why it’s so very difficult to alter that document. It’s supposed to help keep things like Prop 8 from happening.

    But individuals still have more control in this situation than we remotely have as workers and consumers in an economy that’s completely industry-controlled.

    This is not to say that our system isn’t flawed. Campaign finance and lobbyist problems have definitely weighted the system in favor of large-scale donors and constituents. But even as bad as it is, it’s still not as bad as private industry, in which the principle of greater wealth = greater power isn’t just allowed, but is part of how it’s supposed to work.

  76. @49:

    I’d be more comfortable with the idea that the insulting word Conservatives are looking for is “Totalitarian” if it weren’t that most of them seemed perfectly okay with Bush2 Administration policies that are more basically Totalitarian than I’ve seen in the U.S. during a rather long lifetime.

    Maybe it betrays the paucity of my vocabulary, but I can’t think of any better word to describe “The President/Government can imprison anyone they want to, indefinitely, without trial” or “Government agencies can torture people they consider bad, as long as they don’t _call_ it ‘torture’”. (And I don’t think the cosmetics the current Administration are painting on this signal a significant change.)

  77. @lilbase:

    Arguing the semantics of left/right/liberal/conservative is a wonderful academic exercise. Its real-world applicability, however, in an environment where politicians and pundits hurl whatever words they want and credulous media repeat them, is somewhat limited, and therefore a tad pedantic.

    It might be less incendiary to call the left star-bellied sneetches, and the right plain sneetches (or vice versa), but know what? Ain’t happenin’ any time soon. Realistically, all we can try to do is find cases like the townhall deathers screaming soshulizzim and correct them, by pointing and laughing where necessary.

    I just wish the public health care supporters in DC would get their shit together and learn how to frame a goddamn debate for once. Wonder aloud why the Republicans are so dead-set against increased competition in the market. Make it clear that 50 million uninsured is, by itself, a tacit “death panel” far, far worse than the fevered imaginations of the Quitta from Wasilla and her ilk. Repeatedly point out specific examples of the manifold cases where people who have fallen through the cracks of our current system, who cannot be comfortably (and, ironically, lazily) saddled with pejoratives like “lazy” and “stupid” by the privileged. Make commercials featuring cute, big-eyed children who don’t have proper health insurance, and ask why the Limbaughian element of our society wants them to die. In other words, learn the lessons that the messaging successes by the right have been screaming at us for the past 30-odd years.

    I hope Obama takes off the gloves tonight, but I’m really starting to wonder if all we’re going to get from President Hopenchange is just more of the clammy-handed waffleism that we’ve seen from the American left in the past.

  78. @88: “So are you an anarchist, or what?”

    If that word is interpreted literally, going back to ‘an-archon’, then yes. Please see Wikipedia for specific details.

    It’s another of those words that is virtually always misused to the point of its common definition changing. It does NOT refer to straightforward disorder, chaos, or violence in its original meaning. People like being ruled, though, and so non-rule was tarred with all sorts of undesirable outcomes.

  79. Don @ 89: True, but there’s a catch: Most of the people on that side are in the “Freedom only for people like me” camp. Thus, they wouldn’t see arbitrary imprisonment and torture as totalitarian because it supposedly was aimed only at people they defined as the enemy.

    This is the same group of folks, mind, who cry about how their religious freedom is being violated when the president mentions non-believers.

  80. The only reasoned argument I plucked from the frothing political discourse over Obama’s speech was the objection some parents had to Obama using the education system and federal dollars to deliberately cut them out of the loop, coming between them and their children.

    Note that the democrats had massive, if different, objections to the elder Bush doing something similar in 1991: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/When-Bush-spoke-to-students-Democrats-investigated-held-hearings-57694347.html
    I don’t expect to see similar objections from democrats in this case.

    Once Obama backed away from the ‘automatically piped into schools’ option after the hue and cry commenced there was really nothing to object to.

    He gave a good speech. I especially liked the emphasis on personal responsibility and nationalism.

  81. Laura Resnick @ 76 and 79, you’ve gone to the core of the issue:

    “People WANT to hate. They WANT to be afraid. It’s the only feasible explanation for such utterly mormonic interpretations of such utterly mundane things.”

    And they particularly want someone to blame as they see their lives spinning out in the direction of the Unknown.

    The balances of world power, like the climate, are shifting. The comfortable are becoming the afflicted. They really hate that.

  82. Melendwyr: Thanks for the clarification.

    Still, I’m not sure how your philosophy dovetails with your advocacy of power resting solely in the hands of industry.

    Just because a ruler isn’t elected or doesn’t accede to a throne or achieve power via military might doesn’t mean those rulers aren’t real.

    And believe me that the titans of industry are far more dictatorial than people who have to answer to voters.

    We’re going to have rulers. It’s impossible not to. Why not choose a system that allows the greatest popular control over those rulers rather than one that allows for no control at all?

  83. “This is the same group of folks, mind, who cry about how their religious freedom is being violated when the president mentions non-believers.”

    That was pretty sweet. I don’t think I’d ever heard a president admit that atheists exist before.
    Interesting times.

  84. Skar @ 93: That would be a reasoned argument if it weren’t for one thing: Our public school system is just that. It’s taxpayer-funded and therefore a government service.

    If you don’t want any government involved in your kid’s schooling, then put them in private school or home school them. Complaining about real-time civics lesssons in a government school is like complaining about not wanting government to get its hands on your Social Security and Medicare.

    Intelligent parents use this stuff as a teaching moment. They take the time to ask their kids what they learned in school today, and use that as a jumping-off point for discussions of personal philosophy.

  85. He gave a great speech. As an educator, I have given a similar speech a number of times to diverse audiences, and have seen positive results obtain.
    My objection lies in the fact that he gave a speech to a captive audience, with specified worksheets to be used to guide discussion in a social/educational setting where peer pressure tends to go in pre-determined directions.
    If you consider that a tin foil hat reaction, ask yourself what the reaction by the media and yourself would have been if W had announced an upcoming speech to cover the same ground.

    cheers

    oz

  86. @95: “And believe me that the titans of industry are far more dictatorial than people who have to answer to voters.

    We’re going to have rulers. It’s impossible not to. Why not choose a system that allows the greatest popular control over those rulers rather than one that allows for no control at all?”

    The titans have to answer to the people who buy their stocks (assuming they offer shares) and their products.

    If people can’t act according to their best interests as consumers, I don’t think they’ll be able to act in their best interests as voters. Being a good voter is even harder than being a good consumer.

    No, it’s not impossible to not have rulers. And you don’t understand – the alternative isn’t a system that allows for ‘no control’, the alternative is a system that relies upon an entirely different kind of control.

    It may be helpful if you know that I’m a Taoist (admittedly not a very good one) rather than, say, a libertarian or anarchist or whatever.

  87. Re various arguments about the Christianity value of private charity vs. government social support:

    I like the OLD style of Christianity. The really old one, pre-Constantine, where they didn’t expect to be able to enforce their religious beliefs on the non-Christians around them. I think whatsisname liked it too, given that whole ‘render unto Caesar’ one-liner.

    Later re-stated as “separation of church and state” by lesser or at any rate other authorities, which doesn’t prevent both sets of guidelines from being ignored.

    Also. Maybe I’m a cynic from growing up with so many elderly (white) relatives in the Ozarks. But I suspect that “I don’t want my kids to see That Black Man doing something presidential!” was more present in this controversy than anyone is comfortable with.

  88. The only way Obama’s speech could have been any more conservative is if he had led the nation’s in the Lord’s Prayer. Most of that rheoric comes straight from he core of socially conservative Americans. Work and strife and sufer through challeges but if your moral compass be a good one and you listen to your mom and your teachers you may be able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something of yourself and not only will you feel the warm glow of self satisfied success fuel your soul but you will be doing your country a great service and thus proclaim your patriotism with every peice of homework and fulfil your destity in the company of heroes. Americans love that shit. And I am an American

  89. lilbase:

    You’re confusing an endorsement for membership. This makes it quite explicit that the NP endorsed Obama, along with three other candidates, in 1996. Note that in the document you link to, NP claims the three who won their contests but not the fourth. Funny about that.

    As for the NP being a “sub-group” of the DSA, this document makes it clear that the DSA and NP were separate entities who sometimes worked in concert — which is not in the least surprising because the concept behind the NP was “fusion” voting. What it does not suggest was that Obama at any time was a member of any socialist party.

    Basically what we have here is a claim to Obama’s socialism based on “one-document-thick” research. Which is enough if you want to run about in tight circles claiming Obama’s a socialist, but not if you actually want to get at anything substantive. Which is, one suspects, why this story didn’t get any play on anything other than right-wing sites: It’s not credible.

    Second strike, lilbase. Just to let you know, you’re not getting a third strike.

  90. Melendwyr: The titans have to answer to the people who buy their stocks (assuming they offer shares) and their products.

    But as I pointed out, this completely robs the average citizen of any power, because only those in a position to buy the greatest number of goods or shares have any real say in what the company does. Individual consumers and workers simply do not.

    You’re advocating a system that deliberately grants power only to those people who already have it.

  91. Skar – The only reasoned argument I plucked from the frothing political discourse over Obama’s speech was the objection some parents had to Obama using the education system and federal dollars to deliberately cut them out of the loop, coming between them and their children.

    You can say that all you like, but the real objection was promulgated by people who were fearmongering about how he was going to “indoctrinate” children on socialism. It’s not hard to find videos, audio clips, and blog posts from the usual band of right wing talking head jackasses about it.

    You’re trying to make a bunch of whackaloons out to be sane, and it’s not working. The President ought to be able to address schoolchildren with a simple message of “Be responsible, stay in school” without bugf*ck crazy overreaction. If you want to throw in a “Tu Quoque” about a liberal reaction to a Bush speech to schoolkids, go ahead, but you can’t have it both ways. Either both sides were acting insane, or neither. You can’t have reasonable conservatives and unreasonable liberals.

    Once Obama backed away from the ‘automatically piped into schools’ option after the hue and cry commenced there was really nothing to object to.

    And yet the speech was still banned form schools all across the country because of objections over socialist indoctrination. Which would make those still objecting stupid jackasses, right?

    This socialistophobia is yet another symptom of the brain rot of the conservative movement, just like the “birther” movement, and the idiotic “death panels” claim, neither of which are by any means fringe movements.

    William F. Buckley Jr. has been replaced by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and Anne Coulter. Conservatives with any intellectual pedigree are abandoning ship on a regular basis.

  92. Well, that was an excellent rant, I soundly agree with you on a lot of your points. As a bonifide European bred socialist, I’m kinda of insulted that Obama and socialism were in the same sentence together. Obama’s leftward leanings are not socialist at all, socialism would work better then any of the crap in this monstrosity of a health care reform bill. O and a question to all our fine Dem’s and Rep’s out there, hows it feel to be leading a nation when you only make up a forth of it and the other three quarters hate you? I really want to know. I hate this two party system, leads to people unqualified to lead leading.

  93. So, I take it we’re not allowed to call him a fascist either, right? I kid. I’m with you, actually. I’m kind of tired of the “he’s a socialist/fascist/*insert something he actually isn’t here*” arguments. Honestly, I’m sick of all the fearmongering in politics right now, because not only are people often too stupid to research and understand the terms and conditions of what is going on, but people who know they are too stupid to do that take advantage of them and spout nonsense to manipulate the public into adopting a view. If anyone is indocrinating anyone, it’s the people who think Obama is a Nazi socialist. Obama ain’t perfect, but right now he’s the only one that seems to give a crap about doing anything…

  94. I’d have a lot more respect for the “Obama” == “Socialist” folks if they’d have the guts to explicitly propose disbanding all of the socialist institutions that we already have in this country. (i.e. Social Security, Medicare, etc.)

  95. Steve: To their credit, a few of them do advocate such things. Of course, they also want the freedom to build nuclear weapons in their backyards to use against the coming invasion of the lizard people.

  96. Kiester: Agreed.

    Also, I think the real problem here is that there are too many in the mainstream media who have been giving airtime to the political equivalent of Flat Earthers.

    The more legitimacy we give them by giving them soapbox space, the more encouraged they are, and the more we have to hear them going off about how there’s secret code on Federal Reserve Notes that gives instructions to the Illuminati.

  97. Am I the only one who’s busy imagining the story/book with undead Eugene Debs wreaking havoc and strikes across the land? Because I would totally read that. Especially if there was, like, bonus Poltergeist Sacco and Vanzetti too.

  98. @103: “But as I pointed out, this completely robs the average citizen of any power, because only those in a position to buy the greatest number of goods or shares have any real say in what the company does. Individual consumers and workers simply do not.”

    No, Tal. That’s point-blank wrong. On multiple levels.

  99. Great rant Scalzi. I must admit to getting irritated when I see right wing bloggers saying there is no difference between socialism and fascism. Or when they say fascism is a left wing ideology. Or when they use the terms interchangeably. The arguments America seems to be having right now are caused by one (very loud) side of the argument having no idea what it is talking about and the other side not knowing how to counter the purely fictional. Think about the controversies of late: 1) Birthers 2) Death Panels 3) Indoctrination. These are all faux controversies. It seems to me to be like the “War on Christmas” only uglier. How do you argue with someone that is totally reality impaired? What can you say?

  100. nisleib: How do you argue with someone that is totally reality impaired?

    I have no idea, but if you find out, let me know, so I can finally talk politics with my parents.

  101. melendwyer @ 112 – Please explain why Tal is wrong. I read your exchange and you plainly state that, “The titans have to answer to the people who buy their stocks (assuming they offer shares) and their products.” I don’t know how much you know about corporations and shareholder relations but trust me, owning shares doesn’t give one much power. Not unless, of course, you owe over 5% of the shares. There are many examples of shareholders protesting at annual meetings of Exxon and Halliburton, it didn’t make a bit of difference. As to consumers having power over corporations I would kindly ask you to wake up and pay attention to what is going on around you. Your health insurance company doesn’t care about you; most insurance companies have a virtual monopoly in their given markets and fear neither the consumer nor the courts. I grew up in the town where the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill happened; do you think Exxon was the least bit worried about the thousands of people who boycotted them? No, they weren’t. I have to give this one to Tal. You may deny it, but the proof is overwhelming.

  102. Tal@97
    “Our public school system is just that. It’s taxpayer-funded and therefore a government service.”
    Obviously, yes.

    “If you don’t want any government involved in your kid’s schooling, then put them in private school or home school them.”
    Never said I didn’t want the government involved at all. I think a public school system is a good idea.

    “Complaining about real-time civics lessons in a government school … jumping-off point for discussions of personal philosophy.”
    That’s exactly the objection. I work quite closely with my kid’s teachers and if the public school were teaching batshit crazy things my kids wouldn’t be in them. My kid’s school is not teaching batshit crazy things. I can’t say the same thing about Obama who is neither a teacher nor at all associated with my local school board or answerable to any of the mechanisms I use to interact with the local school system. The objection isn’t specific to Obama either. I’m not comfortable with the office of the president establishing a direct line to my kid. There’s no such direct line now and I’d like it to stay that way.

    Josh@104
    “You can say that all you like, but the real objection … talking head jackasses about it.”
    You don’t get to define the other side’s position any more than they get to decide yours, no matter how much you like to do it. (there, see, I did it to you, no fun, eh?)

    “You’re trying to make a bunch of whackaloons out to be sane, and it’s not working.”
    Actually, I’m not. ( Oh, there you go again, telling others what their position is.) As I pretty clearly said the ONLY reasonable objection was to the office of the president establishing a direct line to the kids, bypassing teachers and parents alike. @93 That explicity excludes the other reactions from the ‘reasonable’ category.

    “The President ought to be able to address … without bugf*ck crazy overreaction.”
    Nope. The President can deal with the same bugfuck crazies the rest of us deal with on a regular basis. Notice that he eventually managed to address the children WITHOUT bypassing the parents, though it took some crazy overreaction to get him to back off to that position.

    “If you want to throw in a “Tu Quoque” … can’t have reasonable conservatives and unreasonable liberals.”
    Yup. Both the liberal and conservative objections apply in both cases. The president, no matter his party, ought not to use federal dollars to bypass parents and speak directly to schoolkids.

    “And yet the speech was still banned form schools all across the country because of objections over socialist indoctrination. Which would make those still objecting stupid jackasses, right?”
    Those who objected to it being shown in school for fear of socialist indoctrination are a little loopy, yes, especially since the transcript was available ahead of time. Those who didn’t show it in school because they thought the more appropriate forum was one where the parents were directly involved, no. Those who didn’t show it because it interrupted class schedules, no. Not jackasses.

  103. @122:

    The first step to communicating with someone who’s reality-impaired is making sure that you, yourself, are in touch with reality.

    Most of the problems we face stem from people not recognizing that they’re completely nuts. The blind can’t lead the blind very well, but if they believe they see perfectly well, they can’t even communicate with others, blind or not.

  104. Tal – I got into it with my stepfather last weekend over healthcare. When I pointed out that America pays 2.5 times what any other industrialized country pays for health care already and that the WHO ranks America’s health care system as 37th in the world he told me, in no uncertain terms, that I, “drink the cool aid.” I found the easiest way to deal with my stepfather (he listens to Limbaugh) is to put him on defense. Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and Liddy have told him how to go on attack, but they haven’t buffed up his defense. How do you do this? Simple, ask him what it is that health insurance companies provide. What value do they add? One health insurance CEO I read about made 750 million over 10 years. For doing what? For cancelling claims and bankrupting then killing people – that is the value added from insurance companies. Gotta go, all ya’all have a good night.

  105. I’m going to second what a lot of the other non-Americans on this thread have been saying. This whole thing looks completely bizarre from anywhere outside your borders. In the last federal election here in Canada, my brother ran for the New Democratic Party, which is an avowedly social democratic party descended from an openly socialist party (the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation). You can go to any NDP party meeting and find crusty old retired farmers and dock workers and loggers who will tell you that they’re still socialists, damn it. Not every NDPer is a socialist, and the party’s doctrines couldn’t really be described that way anymore, but it looks like friggin’ communism compared to your basic centrist Democrat position in the States.

    Of course, in Canada the Conservative Party had to abase itself before the voters by repeatedly promising that they would never, ever, ever dismantle our single-payer, government run, socialized health system. Yes, in Canada the only way to get elected is to advocate socialism in health care.

  106. Steve Burnap @34: Reagan didn’t “bail out Chrysler”; the Chrysler Corporation Loan Guarantee Act of 1979 was signed by Jimmy Carter in January 1980. (The loans were repaid early, as it turned out.)

  107. nisleib – The same way you are. You’re fundamentally misunderstanding what it means to have power, then saying that people have no power without political structures, then insisting that your favored political structure gives people power when it doesn’t and in fact takes much of it away. Which is what it is designed and intended to do, and could not function if it did not do.

  108. People who call Obama a socialist are either being deliberately disingenuous, hoping to arouse the passions of their perceived opponents, or they are projecting their worst fears onto someone whose policies they disagree with.

    I understand it, because I did it. I was one of the ones calling W a fascist, when in reality he was more of a dim-witted puppet of vicious opportunists whose only goals were to accrue more power and more money. That they chose to do so in ways that, were they taken to extremes, would have made them fascist totalitarians is totally distinct from what they actually did.

    The Obama haters are just assuming that his desire to see a public option is really just the first step in his gambit to run the insurance companies out of the country and take over all of health care, so that he and his goons can make decisions about what gets funded and who gets taken care of and a bureaucrat gets to decide if gramma gets more insulin…

    The funniest part of it all? Both sides, when they do this, are not just assuming that the other guy is *evil*, but *incompetent* at being evil. W wants perpetual war and to run a police state, but he’s really bad at getting his way. Obama is a commie and wants to run every little thing in your life, and take all your money in taxes to do it, but he’s really bad at getting his way.

  109. [quote]But as I pointed out, this completely robs the average citizen of any power,…Individual consumers and workers simply do not. (tell that to the automakers, unions anyone?)

    You’re advocating a system that deliberately grants power only to those people who already have it.[/quote]
    Consider this: I, as a worker, have instant and total say as to whether I am subject to any given corporation or other ‘industrial master.’ I can quit and find another job or found my own company and do things differently at any moment and the company can’t do a darn thing to stop me.

    As a consumer I also have complete and total say over whether I deal with any given company and they have no coercive power over me whatsoever.

    Neither is true of the government, which extracts the needed funds at the point of a gun and is the only game in town.

    It’s true, IMO that the industrial titans in this country have an awful lot of power, perhaps too much. They have achieved that state by wrapping themselves in layer after layer of government regulation that effectively insulates them from competition. If you don’t believe look into what it would take to start up an oil company or an auto-manufacturer or a healthcare company. I don’t believe the answer is MORE government regulation.

  110. This morning on NPR, I heard Newt G., of all peeps, point out that the big health care bill was a bit of a political stunt, and it would probably work better to do it in chunks. One or more chunks could be making various insurance company abuses illegal. Another could be creating some sort of non-profit alternative. A third could be undoing the bad fee incentives against GPs that currently exist. Another might be working on the lawsuit problem (which I understand is actually pretty small as $, but annoying as a CYA behavior facilitator.) His argument was that these smaller chunks would be less controversial, harder to slip crap into, easier to explain, and thus easier to pass.

    I’m not 100% sure I agree with him on that last bit, but it seems plausible to me – maybe 65% agreement. I’m also pretty sure it was partisan sniping (“you’re doing it wrong!” style delays). But it was *sensible* partisan sniping.

    I never before in my life thought for a minute that I’d say “the rest of you GOP folk should act more like Newt,” but, well:

    “You guys knee-froth-jerking on Da’ Prez should talk more like Newt did on NPR this morning.”

  111. A question: Why does the Right argue like Libertarians when they are out of power (“Keep your inefficient government out of my foo!”) and like Authoritarians (“Arguing with the government is treason!”) when they are in power?

  112. Jeez, Comrade Scalzi, you members of the Writer’s Cooperative are so _picky_ about mere words. You want ideological purity and accurate language. Pah!

    Regards,
    Jack Tingle

  113. *applauds*

    Aside from my general agreement with what you wrote, I really don’t have much else to add at the moment. :P

  114. The Democratic Party in the US seems to be roughly the equivalent of the large right-wing parties in Europe and is to their right on topics like health care funding. The European equivalents of the Republican Party in the US are minor parties there, who tend to have little or no real influence.

    Granted, the US ain’t Europe. But Europe has had a lot more real-life experience with actual socialism and communism, and for some reason the words don’t get them hoping their Depends can handle the load. As far as real-life fascists, I have a family member who grew up in Nazi Germany and others who spent part of their lives in Spain when Francisco Franco was still alive. Calling Obama a socialist is just lame; calling him a fascist is ignorant and pathetic.

    (And sure, the right-wingnuts would be hyperventilating in any case, given that a Dem was elected president. But there’s no question the volume is up a notch or two because Obama’s skin color makes him a DWB suspect. The recent “Stay away from our kids” bro-ha-ha had some interesting historical echos to anyone paying attention.)

  115. Consider this: I, as a worker, have instant and total say as to whether I am subject to any given corporation or other ‘industrial master.’ I can quit and find another job or found my own company and do things differently at any moment and the company can’t do a darn thing to stop me.

    As a consumer I also have complete and total say over whether I deal with any given company and they have no coercive power over me whatsoever.

    Gee, that’s a lovely theory. Like to hear all the exceptions, starting with non-compete clauses and working up from there?

  116. quoth Skaron: “Consider this: I, as a worker, have instant and total say as to whether I am subject to any given corporation or other ‘industrial master.’ I can quit and find another job or found my own company and do things differently at any moment and the company can’t do a darn thing to stop me.”

    Yes, and it’s a good thing that our families’ health care doesn’t depend on keeping our industrial masters happy. Otherwise, most of us would be a lot less able to just walk away.

    Oh, wait …

  117. Skar @ 131: You’re using unions to talk about how workers have power over industry outside of government? Are you serious?

    You also appear to be unfamiliar with the concepts of monopsony and monopoly, and how they run rampant without collective public (aka government) regulation.

    Also, as I said, individual consumers and workers have no power. They have power collectively, but not individually unless they are already in a power position by dint of having a lot of money (consumer power) or rare skills (worker power.)

    A boycott of one changes nothing about how a company does business. Neither does a single worker telling his boss to take the job and shove it.

  118. Also, what Bearpaw said. Health care keeps many people tied to jobs they otherwise would like to quit.

    Much the same as pensions did before we had Social Security.

    And job training before we had public education.

  119. melendwyr @ 129 – Wow, what a strawman. When did I do any of that crap? Your arguement seems to boil down to, “If you can’t convince them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit.”

  120. I got to stand next to [Morena Baccarin] once, you know. Tiny. And not in the least lizardy.

    In fact I understand she’s distinctly mammalian.

  121. quoth martinlon: A question: Why does the Right argue like Libertarians when they are out of power (”Keep your inefficient government out of my foo!”) and like Authoritarians (”Arguing with the government is treason!”) when they are in power?

    Daddy makes them feel safe, but Mommy makes them feel like they can’t get away with anything?

    Nah, I guess it’s a little more complicated than that.

    Also, it’s worth noting that large chunks of the Left are also inconsistent, though to their credit it’s not nearly as blatant. The usual good guys (the ACLU et al) are fighting against Obama’s continuation of many of Bush’s more egregious policies, but it doesn’t seem like they have as much support for that.

  122. The thing that gets me about the people having issue with the speech (even after the White House scrapped the lesson plan that was supposed to go with it) is that people forget that Presidents have been talking to kids for years. Hell, Ronald Regan pushed more of his policy, while talking about the benefits of low taxes, in his speech to kids than Obama did last night.

  123. I’m a conservative who is a registered Republican only because it’s the party that once had some ideas that I believed in. I don’t know what the hell it stands for anymore. I must say that I completely agree with everything that John has to say about this, so I don’t see this as a left/right issue but rather a reasonable/unreasonable (smart/stupid) issue.

  124. Matt @144

    It’s only indoctrination if it’s something I disagree with, you understand.

    Otherwise, it’s shiny goodness.

  125. Mmmm…chicken hatters…dem’s good eatin’!

    I could go for a platter of deep fried chicken hatters with mashed potatoes and gravy just about now. And a large diet coke.

  126. Amen, John

    nislieb@126 The value they add is to themselves and maybe their shareholders. Anyone who worries about ‘death panels’ needs to spend one day arguing with an insurance company to get care approved for a patient.

  127. John, Ialmsot sent you the link to the article about how wrong the morons were for gettign their panties in a bunch over the speech. And then I figured (rightly) that you’d already seen it.

    Now if we could only use your new Obama-criticizing rules for, say, every elected official and their representatives, maybe we could have a reasonable debate about anything at all i nthis country.

  128. Thank you Mr. S.

    Our school district administration believed it was necessary to telephone every household with enrolled children to assure them that there was misinformation circulating in our community, and that if children opted to NOT watch the speach, those children would be “in no way punished. [They were] asking elementary school teachers to obtain parental permission before showing the speech in class.”

    These calls were made on Labor Day.

    I live in Illinois.

  129. JulieB @151

    Interesting. My daughter attends a charter school that encourages community service and involvement. The principal just e-mailed parents over the weekend that the students would be watching the speech. There were very few absences.

    I’m not sure what the Durham, NC public schools did.

  130. Ok…To filter through the bullshit opinionated banter, my first comment is this: If your life depended on it, could anyone (including the author- albeit there were some decent points though rather nonsensical) define socialism, both its ideolistic basis, methodology and give some pragmatic examples of how it works, or rather in this lots context how it doesn´t work.

    For those of you Americans who feel so terribly threathened by the prospect of socialism, let me pose a question to you…Do you feel safe under extreme capitalism? With thousands losing their homes, jobs, etc. ?

    I for one lived in America, am an American (by technicality of being born there), and still don´t undertand the subserviant acceptance of the nation´s people. ” Sure our economy stinks, but our government is gonna help us (or please would you help us) with that” – Yet, please Mr. gov. don´t interfere or your being a socialist.

    Really people, the majoirty of the world´s governments has mixes of socialism that are far stronger than any policies being driven forward in the US, and yet most countries are dealing with economical distress (face it crisis) much better than the US. Even with crisis aside, those countries that are as most of the US population fears, “socialists”, are really dealing better in terms of their people, finances and overall well-being – this is not to say that those countries don´t have problems, but considering US population density, unemployment rates and the likes, I don´t think you will find many are in such a critical position.

    It may just be time for the US and it´s stubborn opinions to drop the shield and realize there just may be a better way. So what if the government subsidizes on a higher scale, and offers systems and programs for those who are needy. Are you afraid of high taxes…if you are, well bluntly you are just greedy. Taxes suck, but are you human? Human duty, conscience, etc….ever heard of it?

    I am certain if there are retorts to this, they will be the always original… ” My father/ I fought for the freedom of this nation…” FYI – most wars waged by the US, were not their own, and if they wouldn´t have gotten involved would have been resolved quicker by the parties who were actually connected to the conflict. Or the olld “I work hard for my money, why should some lazy ass get benefits because I work”…again…it might happen to you, so be human(e) now…

    I won´t ramble longer, but really…So what if the US president was a Socialist? Your life may get better. Research it a bit, and stop being a 1900s cold war, red-scare fear breeder!

  131. John @ 110

    Brilliant piece of timing there! LMAO at the dichotimy between the rising tension and that one liner.

  132. Skar

    The only reason the corporations don;t have complete and total control over what services adn merchandise you ahve access to is because we have a government with monopoly and anti-trust laws. Take those away, take that government power away from the people, and the corporations will quickly go about devouring each other until you really don’t have a choice who to work for . Everything in your area will be owned by one company, quit at any job, and no job is possible anywhere without physically moving out of the reach of the company. Alternativley, corporations ignore geography in favor of market share, and soon the only razor yo ucan buy is a Bic, because they own all of the razor infrastructure. And, just like in Demolition Man, you just KNOW that all restaurants will be Taco Bells.

    On the plus side, comparison shopping would be a whole lot faster :)

  133. @125:
    Dunning-Kruger effect is such an obstacle. I don’t know a way around it, but at least I know I don’t know.

  134. Word, Scalzi. I can’t believe how out of control a lot of this rhetoric has gotten. But more to the point, just how dumb some people are or think others will be. I think Hannitys openning line to discuss the presidents speech tonight just about sums it “now I’m going to talk abou how you feel about this.” and then one of his examples was how Obama called insurance executives bad guys and then played the clip where Obama deliberately says they aren’t bad guys.

    What gets my goat even more is how some people think this sort of nonsense counts as fulfilling our civic duty to participate on important policy conversations. Arguing that Obama wants to kill my grandmother and my brother the veteran and use the savings to pay for top notch health care fo illegal immigrants is not participation. If the president wants to tell my daughter to stay in school and work hard I think that’s fine by me. You don’t get to object by saying it isn’t right to indoctrinate your kid and then when challenged coyly suggest that some teachers may not have the time available in their plans, that’s all. That’s the objection you start with. You don’t scream Nazi death camp child soldiers and then get to make a rational point. Go suck an egg in the corner and come back when you’ve learned your lesson.

    The utter disappointment in this discourse aside, it does seem to be working for republicans. I mean all we’ve talked about for the last ten months is how the popularly elected president of the united states is going to take over the coutry and turn it into a fascist socialist state with Nazi style death camps guarded by my brainwashed child.

  135. Joel@125

    The only reason the corporations don’t have complete and total control over what services adn merchandise you ahve access to is because we have a government with monopoly and anti-trust laws.

    Agreed.
    I’m not advocating getting rid of government entirely. I just want less of it. Some government is good. More is bad. The more power we put into the hands of government the more likely it is that some person or group will be able to grab the rest of it. You can’t avoid that if the first and only thing people think when they see a problem is “the gubmint should do som’thin ’bout that” And as I said, the government has had it’s hand in so many pies for so long that referring to the current system as pure capitalism is just naive. Government regulations have created most of the problems. More will not solve them.

    Tal@140-141

    You’re using unions to talk about how workers have power over industry outside of government? Are you serious?

    Why would I not be? Unskilled labor at the auto-factories get paid more than skilled specialists elsewhere. That’s the unions. The list is long.

    You also appear to be unfamiliar with the concepts of monopsony and monopoly, and how they run rampant without collective public (aka government) regulation.

    I admit I’d never heard of monopsony but I was familiar with the concept. One buyer. Monopoly, one seller. Big corporations use big government to protect themselves, as I said earlier. If the little guy is protected by appropriate government regulation and allowed to do an end run around the ‘monopoly’ no more monopoly. If the government instead makes it incredibly hard to do business in a certain field due to excessive regulation then only those with great wealth or influence already can play in that game. Voila, monopoly.

    Also, as I said, individual consumers and workers have no power. They have power collectively, but not individually unless they are already in a power position by dint of having a lot of money (consumer power) or rare skills (worker power.)

    A boycott of one changes nothing about how a company does business. Neither does a single worker telling his boss to take the job and shove it.

    But it makes a big difference to the worker. If the goal you’re after really is the power for the government to tell businesses how to do business…well, that IS socialism.

    Note, I am not stating that Obama is socialist, merely that what Tal seems to be after is.

  136. Skar: Why would I not be? Unskilled labor at the auto-factories get paid more than skilled specialists elsewhere. That’s the unions. The list is long.

    Do you not know that the only reason we have unions at all is because of government intervention to protect them? Seriously. You need to go look up the history of the labor movement sometime. It’s terrifying.

    Again: People who don’t already have money or power in large quantities do not have power in a strictly capitalist economy.

  137. First off, I apologize if I wind up rehashing points already made in other comments as I am afraid I do not have time to read all 159 comments.

    I am not sure if it is truly the fault of the average person when they apply the moniker “socialist” to, well, pretty much anything. Our educational system and news media have so distorted the term for so long that its common usage is more akin to any governmental program that reallocates wealth such as the social welfare programs of Europe or government regulations that inhibt free market enterprise for examples.

    That said, I do believe that many of the policy makers in DC are putting us on the path toward socalism, possibly without realising it, in the name of public welfare. With the goverment taking actions today aimed at preventing another economic meltdown like we just suffered, it sets further precedent for future goverments to take even more control under the guise of protecting the economy. This time they have taken over AIG and GM, fired execuctives, and limited executive pay. What will they do next time? That is my fear. Not that Obama is a socialist but that his policies (and those of the House and Senate leadership) have enough of a socialist tint that they set precedent for further encroachment intot he free market.

    Oh, and I do believe that Obama is legal paternalist and thinks he knows what is best for each of us despite what we think…

  138. Tal@160
    Again: I’m not advocating getting rid of all government. Not. At. All. Some government is good, more government is bad.

    I have not made more than a cursory study of the labor movement, but, if my impression is correct, the government intervention mostly involved not letting the companies do illegal things like beating the shit out of organizers and so forth. Preserving the union’s right to assemble. Nothing wrong with that.

    I may be way off base. If so, please point me to a good reference and I’ll educate myself. Thx

  139. Also, what I want is for the people to have the power to prevent businesses from exploiting workers and consumers.

    Here in our voter-controlled state, that means government. We the people, through our duly elected representatives and legislative processes.

    You seem to be concieving of government as some sort of monolith that’s separate from the citizens. It’s not. We ARE the government. This is how we act collectively to regulate and administer our community systems.

    We the people chose a president and a majority congress who want to see to it that everyone gets health care coverage, and that health insurance companies aren’t able to kill people in the name of profit. That’s not socialism any more than any democracy is socialism.

    Socialism is total government/collective control over an economy. Collectively owned and administered essential services aren’t socialism. Neither is basic regulation.

    You don’t get to decide that anything that isn’t 100% free market capitalism that would make Milton Friedman wet his pants with glee is instead 100% socialism.

    You seem to like the idea of the collective action of unions, so why don’t you understand that government in a democracy works exactly the same way? It’s group action to empower the little guy to be able to take on larger entities.

  140. @163
    And you seem to think of businesses and industry as some sort of monolithic entity separate from the people of the country. They are not. They are made up of the people of the country. Even the CEOs are citizens. When the government screws with a company’s bottom-line, who do you think pays for that? Not the CEOs that’s for darn sure. The employees and the customers do, lower salaries, lost jobs, higher prices. My company just laid off about 50 people in several departments. At the same time they hired 5 new accountants to help deal with the SOX audit. Thanks government.

    You don’t get to decide that anything that isn’t 100% free market capitalism that would make Milton Friedman wet his pants with glee is instead 100% socialism.

    Haven’t tried to decide that and haven’t said it. Government administration of what used to be private industry, or the government telling business how to do business is socialism. That’s the underlying philosophy whether or not those with that as their agenda have already prevailed or are simply working toward that goal.

    You seem to like the idea of the collective action of unions, so why don’t you understand that government in a democracy works exactly the same way? It’s group action to empower the little guy to be able to take on larger entities.

    Yup. I understand that just fine. There’s a difference between group action to prevent well-defined illegal acts and group action to dictate behavior. Like I said, some government is good, more government is bad.

  141. I agree with your larger point that no one can honestly or seriously call our President a socialist or a fascist, but I would like to quibble over the assertion that there is such a big difference between fascism and socialism. After all, the Nazis (whom we generally consider an example of a fascist group) referred to themselves as “National Socialist”, and I think there was something to that self-image.

    My understanding is that socialism is characterized by extreme government involvement in economic decision-making. Usually this is accomplished by actually having the government take over industries and run them. Fascism is also characterized by extreme government involvement in economic decision-making, but with nominal ownership of industry remaining in private hands, and with corporations and labor unions acting under close monitoring in partnership with the state. I think it’s not crazy or ignorant to say fascism and socialism are similar. But I agree it is wrong to use either term in a non-substantive way just to refer to everything the speaker disagrees with.

    Of course, if people didn’t do that, we would never have had this:

    http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/06/25/winner-4/

  142. “I would like to quibble over the assertion that there is such a big difference between fascism and socialism.”

    No, not here. It’s not a quibble, and there’s a vast and substantial difference between the two, and your understanding of them as stated here is superficial, akin to saying that since both dogs and cows have four legs and a tail, they’re really very similar. Please go and educate yourself in detail about both systems; attempting to learn about either in a blog comment thread is not a good idea. Any halfway decent encyclopedia will get you started. Emphasis on started.

  143. Skar @ 159 – I’m not sure that makes sense. If governmet doesn’t interfere with businesses then no monopolies will exist? I’m pretty sure history has proven that thought wrong.

    I’d agree that can government can artificially create a monopoly, but I’d say it’s right out that government regulation creates monopolies.

    I think you might be misuing the term big government there. Corporations historically chase profits and conduct work arounds for government regulations like how many hours a person can be obligated to work and what pay they should receive for such work. I’m not sure government regulations to protect the rights of employees can be construed as government creating a monopoly.

  144. Rusty @ 161 no. If one wants to participate in a policy discussion as a citizen with a stake in the result it is your obligation as a citizen to understand to the best of your ability exactly what the hell you are saying. People don’t get a pass for blindly jumping on a bandwagon deliberately created to make people afraid of the government. It is your duty as a citizen to be informed.

    Talking smack about big government and fascist socialists is not informed discourse on public policy. I don’t care that most of the poor bastards were lied to. Their bile and vitriol would only be appropriate if what they were upset about was based in fact. Talking about doctor shortages because of all the immigrants, illegal or legal, suddenly getting healthcare is not acceptable. Suggesting that the president of the united states is a foreign born insurgent trying to brainwash your children with socialist fascist propaganda is not just unacceptable, it’s embarrassingly stupid.

  145. Skar: There’s a difference between group action to prevent well-defined illegal acts and group action to dictate behavior

    Not so long ago, many people would have defined a company’s refusal to hire a person of color as mere “behavior”; just another legitimate choice in how to do business.

    But government, acting in response to the actions of sensible citizens, made that illegal.

    Millions of other rotten business practices, from child labor to price fixing, were also once considered just a normal way to make a profit. And oh, how they howled gloom and doom when those regulations were proposed.

    And yet, industry survived. Thrived, even. The horror stories of economic collapse if there’s “too much” regulation never come true. And when there’s too little? Well, we get things like the collapse of banking and real estate.

    Profit is not evil, nor is wealth. Making it by exploiting workers and consumers is. And it’s also lousy for the overall economy, too. Legitimately healthy and successful businesses thrive because they produce high-quality goods and services at a fair price. They shouldn’t need to cheat to make money. Government culling of those cheaters not only serves individual citizens, but helps keep the whole herd healthy.

  146. “I went to pick up Athena from school, and all the kids marched out of building, singing “The Internationale””

    I am really late to this party, but when I saw the above quote the first thing I thought was: yes, but it was the really dorky Billy Bragg version.

    Somebody in the above thread commented that government intervention in the trade union movement basically involved taking away the ability of companies to do illegal stuff like beating the crap out of union organizers.

    First, companies would do worse than beat the crap out of union organizers; the history of the trade union movement includes folks who were killed by either police or company thugs. In the United States you have the stories of Bloody Mingay and in Canada you have Bloody Estevan; both involved body counts.

    Secondly government intervention involved more than just stopping corporate illegal activity. The framework of labour relations in North America is a very tightly controlled regime of when a group can be called a union, when a union can represent a group of workers, what the union can do when they represent workers and what remedies exist for the union when the companies breach the agreements that they have with the union. In the United States this is contained in the National Labour Relations Act (and the various state labour relations acts) and in Canada it is the Canada Labour Code and the various provincial labour relations statutes.

    Without active government intervention, there would either be no labour movement in North America, or the labour movement would be very, very different than it is today.

    Cheers
    Andrew

  147. Oh fine, now you decide to ban the idiocy. You couldn’t have done that in the last discussion? :)

    “The titans have to answer to the people who buy their stocks (assuming they offer shares) and their products.”

    Yeah, that’s what the shareholders and customers of the banks thought too, M. Turned out they were wrong. And the executives who plunged us into financial apocalypse? Still getting their bonuses while the shareholders and customers were losing their shirts, and the government slit its throat to prop them up for those shareholders, customers and workers the titans couldn’t be bothered about.

    Businesses are made up of people. People are frequently greedy and inefficient, and in the business world, often encouraged to be so. They focus on their short-term personal financial gain, instead of the long term health of the company and those invested in it. And as we saw with Madoff, even the most respected titan can be a royal con-artist. He answered for things sure, but so did the people who lost all their money trusting him. And who is attempting to get some small token of that money back for them? The fellow titans of industry? No, the government. Which is why we have one.

    “Millions of other rotten business practices, from child labor to price fixing, were also once considered just a normal way to make a profit. And oh, how they howled gloom and doom when those regulations were proposed.

    And yet, industry survived. Thrived, even. The horror stories of economic collapse if there’s “too much” regulation never come true. And when there’s too little? Well, we get things like the collapse of banking and real estate.

    Profit is not evil, nor is wealth. Making it by exploiting workers and consumers is. And it’s also lousy for the overall economy, too. Legitimately healthy and successful businesses thrive because they produce high-quality goods and services at a fair price. They shouldn’t need to cheat to make money. Government culling of those cheaters not only serves individual citizens, but helps keep the whole herd healthy.”

    Far more eloquent than me, Tal. Thank you.

  148. @170: “Not so long ago, many people would have defined a company’s refusal to hire a person of color as mere “behavior”; just another legitimate choice in how to do business.”

    And it is. I fail to see how anyone is obligated to give anyone else a job, or refrain from rejecting a job candidate for any reason. Whether we find their reasons acceptable or offensive is utterly irrelevant.

    “Millions of other rotten business practices, from child labor to price fixing, were also once considered just a normal way to make a profit.”

    There’s nothing wrong with child labor. You have some peculiar ideas about what being of particular ages means; ‘childhood’ is a recent invention, mostly without basis.

    As for price fixing, governments like to do that to serve business interests. I live in a state where the minimum price of dairy products is set by law, ostensibly to protect small dairy farmers but really to serve the interests of the large dairy operations that have replaced them.

    “And yet, industry survived. Thrived, even. The horror stories of economic collapse if there’s “too much” regulation never come true. And when there’s too little? Well, we get things like the collapse of banking and real estate.”

    They’re constantly coming true. The rest of the economy supports the burden of the regulation placed upon it. There is such a thing as a “last straw”, Tal.

    As for banking and real estate, those were combinations of simple human stupidity (which no system can eliminate but market forces can and do punish) and existing regulations preventing appropriate market corrections from kicking in earlier.

    “Profit is not evil, nor is wealth. Making it by exploiting workers and consumers is.”

    So people should not work for ‘exploiters’, nor purchase and consume their goods.

    There’s a reason Jefferson wanted to found this nation on farmer-citizens. When people do not produce the necessities of life themselves, they become vulnerable to forms of hydraulic despotism. You abhor the deplorable conditions of (to pick one historical example) cloth mills, yet know nothing of the factors that caused people to be desperate enough to take jobs in those mills in the first place. The reason children were used was that children had always worked on farms. Was that ‘evil’?

  149. “There’s nothing wrong with child labor.”

    Oh, nonsense. Exploiting people with neither the age or knowledge to understand or reasonably consent to their labor, often in dangerous circumstances, is shameful and immoral. Child labor isn’t kids working on the family farm; it was kids in mines and is kids in sweatshops, or children sold off to pay their families’ “debts,” etc.

    melendwyr, this foolish statement of yours is dangerously close to trolling, and shows a rather appalling lack of understanding of why child labor laws exist in the first place. Let’s not have that here.

  150. Skar @159: “Agreed.”

    No, that’s an absurdity. Consumer choice is and has always been the most power determinant of what is offered for sale and who does it.

    Sadly, most people are morons. Which is why companies like Wal*Mart can intentionally destroy the local economies of small towns, then close the stores they built to accomplish that goal – because people cooperate with them.

    Want to control the power that groups of people can gain? Okay – but you can’t do that with more groups of people. Give government the power to control corporations, and corporations will simply devote themselves to influencing government – and laws will be passed to benefit the corporations with the most influence. The solution ends up being worse than the original problem.

    If you use government to prevent uses of power you disapprove of, how do you prevent abuse of government?

  151. The Scalzi @ 174:

    “Oh, nonsense. Exploiting people with neither the age or knowledge to understand or reasonably consent to their labor, often in dangerous circumstances, is shameful and immoral.”

    Age is irrelevant – mental competence, however, is. And the pop psych understanding of when people develop mental competence and to what degree has nothing to do with reality. Do adults working in sweatshops have any greater knowledge of what that entails? Well, no. ‘Consent’ is arbitrarily restricted to people of a certain age, and people are presumed to possess the knowledge and mental capacities to give it when they’re that age whether they actually have it or not.

    “Child labor isn’t kids working on the family farm; it was kids in mines and is kids in sweatshops, or children sold off to pay their families “debts,” etc.”

    Now you’re abusing language. Child labor is – ready for this? – children, laboring. You’re simply listing the negative incarnations of working children and then insisting that those examples define the concept.

    And I won’t even get into your abuse of the concept of ‘trolling’…

  152. “Age is irrelevant”

    Yeah, not really. There are cognitive, experiential and developmental reasons why children are not judged to be competent to make decisions regarding labor, as well as many other things. Which is why child labor is largely disallowed and when it is not (for example, in acting), exceptionally tightly monitored and controlled.

    melendwyr, you get to stop talking about child labor here, because you clearly have your head up your ass on the subject, and I’m not going to pretend you’re opining at all rationally about it.

  153. Actually, I’ll comment: melandwyr, you know zip about brain development. There are judgements adults can make that children and even adolescents simply do not have the brain structures to make. I recall an experiment in which 15-year-olds consistently misidentified frightened facial expressions as angry; they were also being PET scanned (I think it was) and their brains had no activity in two key areas that light up like a Christmas tree when an adult sees a frightened expression.

    In adolescence, the brain changes from the child form to the adult form essentially from the back forwards: the old brain first, the new brain last. (Call that an example of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny if you want.) Teenagers develop the ability to do crazy skateboard tricks YEARS before they develop the sense NOT to do them. The part of the brain that successfully predicts the consequences of actions develops only very late in adolescence, in fact one might say that the completion of that development IS the completion of adolescence.

    So what you’ve said about having the competence to make choices is horse pucky. You may claim that the age of 18 is arbitrary, but treating children differently than adults is not.

    In addition, though, children are easier to coerce by means of pure force (because they’re generally smaller and weaker than adults) and more subject to economic coercion than any other group in society. Moreover, childhood does tend to carry knowledge deficits compared to adulthood; you can’t make a choice if you don’t know it exists.

    I’m saying this mostly for the benefit of others who may come and read. I suspect you know full well what twaddle you’re spouting, which is why John is entirely justified in gently suggesting that you might be a troll.

  154. Oh, darn that Scalzi. Said it before I could; said it more succinctly; put authority behind it, which I can’t.

    What he said.

  155. I think you’re confusing “statements you disagree with” and “statements that are irrational”, but I won’t argue the point.

    To return to the original topic: ‘Fascism’ is both a set of beliefs about who should control society and how it should be done – specifically, physical force (usually wielded by police and military organizations) and idealization of national identity, although the latter is characteristic of more modern forms of fascism.

    ‘Socialism’ is a set of beliefs about what society should do, specifically how it should act regarding its citizens. It’s a goal, not a methodology, although people wanting to accomplish specific means often advocate socialistic programs and governments in order to accomplish them.

    The two ideas are distinct and separable, but not incompatible. They can be and have been combined, usually with disastrous consequences. See also: National Socialists.

  156. GODWIN!

    But the National Socialists were socialists in the same sense that the German Democratic Republic was democratic (or a republic, for that matter). Just because people use a name doesn’t mean the name describes what they really are.

    I’m beginning to suspect you of naïveté rather than trollery.

  157. Xopher, I’ve made a blog post about your ‘contributions’ regarding pre- and post-puberty neuroscience; leave a comment if you wish.

    Regarding this:

    @187: “But the National Socialists were socialists in the same sense that the German Democratic Republic was democratic (or a republic, for that matter). Just because people use a name doesn’t mean the name describes what they really are.”

    Just because something belonging to a category you approve of is negative and bad doesn’t mean it’s not within that category. They most certainly were socialists. Their promises to the Germans were quite explicitly so; so were their actions – towards Germans. They were highly critical of capitalism, promised (and delivered) radical economic reforms to benefit the working class, etc.

    Socialists. Just really nasty and evil socialists that you wouldn’t want to use an example of the movement if you could avoid it, and potentially a rhetorical weak spot that could be exploited to unreasonably tar socialism.

    In the interests of expunging the stupid use (misuse) of words, we must however acknowledge that they were socialists. However much we might wish they weren’t. On multiple levels.

    Besides, they’re not so much an example of the evils of socialism as the evils of fascism – your Godwin complaint is baseless. Unless you’re advocating fascism, which would be fascinating. And ridiculous, since even in societies in which it’s made to work the cost is hideous.

  158. “Now you’re abusing language. Child labor is – ready for this? – children, laboring. You’re simply listing the negative incarnations of working children and then insisting that those examples define the concept.”

    So much for that compassion part of Taoism.

    You’re right, abuses don’t define child labor. But abuses always occur in large numbers when children are used as labor. The less regulation you have, the more abuse, leading into basically child slavery, as occurs in many parts of the world.

    Children do labor. Twelve-year-olds babysit. Kids help with the family farm or in the family store. Fifteen-year-olds run lawn mowing enterprises. Sixteen-year-olds can work at retail jobs, etc., just like adults.

    The child labor laws are not to prevent all children from laboring. They are to keep abuses from occurring from child labor, and to ensure that children will not be prevented from obtaining a basic education due to being forced to work, that children will not be sold as slaves — as they are in many parts of the world — and that children will not be forced to do dangerous and harmful work. Because for some reason, we value the little critters, whereas businesses do not. (And consumers don’t care to know; witness child slaves making a good deal of our chocolate.)

    As for Jefferson, a man of great ideas, he lived in a world completely different from what we live in now, with no way for us to ever return to it. Not to mention that he was the equivalent of the big dairy farmer in his society, which was not self-sufficient farm utopia at all. And that his society was dependent on slaves, including child slaves, and indentured servants (temp slaves and child slaves.) But, as you pointed out with the hiring or not hiring of a black man, you seem to feel that ideas like slavery are perfectly fine as long as people want them.

    As for consumers being the dominant economic force, I’m just not even going to bother, because it just makes me laugh. You’re not a troll, Melendwyr, you’re just tripping.

  159. KatG:

    I’ve already said I don’t want to continue the child labor discussion here.

    Next post on the topic from anyone gets snipped out.

    In a more general sense, the comment thread is wandering afield a bit, so let’s try to dial back in to the entry topic, please.

  160. Um… He-Who-Wields-The-Mallet has instructed us not to discuss that topic further, KatG.

    Got something to say to me about it? Do it somewhere else, or face the wrath (well, possibly the annoyance) of the Scalzi.

  161. Also, melendwyr, you leave out some essential bits of socialism and fascism when you define them. Understandable, since those bits refute your proposition.

    Socialism includes the ideology that the government is responsible for the welfare of all citizens, and the idea that the strong should help the weak. It’s a governmental way of ensuring that that help flows. The strength of a socialist society shows in how it cares for its weakest members.

    In fascism, the weak are discarded, or even used as target practice for the strong. Fascists believe that to have a strong society the weak must be culled.

    This is a fundamental conflict. No society can be both socialist and fascist. I predict you will respond by saying that one or both of the characteristics I’ve ascribed respectively to the two philosophies is not essential, but then you’ll simply be wrong.

  162. The Obama=socialist thing seems to be less of an issue to worry about now. Now we’re just having Glen Beck go on witch hunts to oust political aides in the government because they are A) accused of being socialist; and B) accused of conspiring to turn the U.S. into a worker’s paradise. We’ve had two resignations now, one from environment to spare Obama controversy and one from the NEA on trumped up grounds of malfeasance to spread socialist propaganda, so as to spare Obama embarassment.

    So I think we’re going to find that while Obama equal socialist continues to get lip-service, they’ve really shifted their attacks to whatever members of the administration, government agencies, etc., they think they can pick off.

  163. And by calling me a moron on your own website, you’ve avoided the wrath of Scalzi here, melendwyr, but you’re still a jackass for doing it. And of course you don’t want to argue with morons; it wastes your time.

    Neither do I.

  164. Oops, sorry Scalzi, I missed the green box warning where you asked the topic of child labor be avoided. I will pay more attention to green boxes from here on in.

  165. Socialism includes the ideology that the government is responsible for the welfare of all citizens, and the idea that the strong should help the weak. It’s a governmental way of ensuring that that help flows. The strength of a socialist society shows in how it cares for its weakest members.

    Um, no. That is indeed a feature of many socialist programs, including (presumably) the ones you favor. But it’s not inherent to socialism itself; it’s an economic theory, not inherently a political one, concerning the distribution of renumeration for labor.

    In fascism, the weak are discarded, or even used as target practice for the strong. Fascists believe that to have a strong society the weak must be culled.

    No, fascists believe that to have a strong society the weak must be dominated by the strong. It’s where the name comes from – the bundle of twigs wrapped around an axe handle used as a symbol of authority. The twigs aren’t broken, just forced into a collective unit.

    Language – can you handle it? Appearances suggest… not.

  166. Ahem: Wikipedia’s definition of Fascism
    Fascism: The Ultimate Definition – (or so the author of the page claims)
    Wikipedia on Socialism

    As for ‘troll’, it’s a person who posts inflammatory content that does not contribute to the discussion and has no purpose beyond inflaming people’s emotions. If posters have any purpose beyond that, or can plausibly be considered to be likely to have a further purpose, they’re not trolls.

    They’re just people who continue to post things you wish they wouldn’t.

  167. Language – can you handle it? Appearances suggest… not.

    “Inflammatory content that does not contribute to the discussion and has no purpose beyond inflaming people’s emotions.”

  168. (raises eyebrow) I didn’t say anything about ‘infallible’. It is an awfully convenient source, though, particularly as the content there does not differ substantially from other sources I considered.

    Xopher, in contrast, has offered no sources at all for his claims. And that’s at least partially because his ‘definitions’ of the relevant concepts has nothing to do with their formal usages. There aren’t any sources he can cite.

    Fascism doesn’t mean what the right-wing wingnuts think it does. It doesn’t mean what some of you think it does, either. Same thing goes for Socialism.

  169. He’s pretty good at trolling, I’ll say that for him. But engaging him on any matter of substance is clearly a waste of time.

  170. Melendwyr is NOT arguing in good faith. And no, he has no idea of what he speaks.

    Note, however, that Wikipedia (Melendwyr’s source) clearly states the following: Fascism is normally described as “extreme right”. Now anybody who relies on Wikipedia is setting themselves up to look foolish, but even Wikipedia doesn’t claim fascism and socialism are the same thing.

  171. Neither did I, nisleib. In fact, I explicitly said they weren’t.

    Let me know when you wish to start engaging a matter of substance, Xopher, instead of just making claims and shrieking ‘Troll!’ when you can’t support them.

    Now, let’s return to the topic, instead of discussing ourselves discussing each other.

  172. Thanks, nisleib. To me, of course, melendwyr’s sources are irrelevant, because as you point out he’s not arguing in good faith. I didn’t click his links because I have no intention of engaging him on any matter of substance ever again, because he is a troll.

  173. If you look at comment 130 by melendwyr it is clear that instead of using subtle things like facts he/she prefers to use straw men. He/she can’t win legitimate arguements, so he makes up arguements he can win. It is an old trick. Xopher strategy for dealing with melendwyr is probably the best strategy; ignore him.

    PS – Scalzi, why don’t you ban this guy/gal? He/she adds nothing to the conversation.

  174. nisleib:

    Why should I ban him? He’s being largely polite, and he’s taken direction when I’ve asked him to move on from a particular topic. Which is to say generally speaking he’s following the rules I set out for commenting.

    Also, as regards making arguments, by and large I think it’s useful for people to try out their arguments and get them beat around, in the hope that the next time their arguments will be more robust. Which is why I give most people here a considerable amount of leeway. I do make the assumption most people are arguing genuinely, even if they are arguing poorly, and generally only step in when I think they’re purposefully trolling or have gotten so wrapped up in their argument and the defense of it that they’re not thinking straight about it and need a time out.

  175. John, while I don’t agree that he’s been largely polite, he’s been careful to put his largest provocations on his own site and link to them here, rather than post them directly. He’s good at this game.

    I also think the last line of #198 was pretty trollish. But I expect he’s coloring within the lines, even so. *I* find him enough of a troll that *I* refuse to converse with him, but it’s your site, not mine.

  176. Xopher:

    I saw that line as snark rather than genuine spite, although of course mileage may vary. Also, my definition of “polite” as regards comments here is fairly elastic. That said, I do agree that people are edging into the red a bit with comments, and I would like them to try harder to be civil.

  177. I will try to be civil, and since I will not be civil to wozzisname, I will instead ignore him entirely (which is near enough to civil as not to matter).

    And I took that remark as genuine spite. It didn’t seem worth pointing out that my degree is in linguistics, and that I know more about language than he dreams of knowing. At that point I had already decided he wasn’t worth talking to any more.

  178. Thank you for the response John. It is your blog and you set the rules, I get that. I just hear too many right wingers saying the NAZIs were socialists and it bugs me. Socialism is a left wing ideology and the Nazi’s were NOT left wing. What can I say, the ignorant annoy me.

  179. I become very irked when people start bringing out the “more development == better function” fallacy. Yeah, it’s intuitive, but for quite a lot of things human neurology actually works the other way, and it’s quite important that people understand that.

    The neural pruning of the frontal cortex late in development doesn’t represent the attainment of maximum frontal function, it’s the end of the critical period in which function can be developed. If someone hasn’t developed the capacities of the angel brain by that time, they ain’t gonna do so.

    In terms of functional capacity, most people hit their maximum of judgment and self-control before they leave high school. Actually using those qualities is something that’s often learned considerably later…

    People in our culture tend to both vastly underestimate the potential of children and teens and vastly overestimate the maturity and capacity of adults. I attribute it to self-bias: every age group thinks every other age group should do things their way.

    If your expertise in linguistics happens to extend to neuroscience, Xopher, you should really know better than to make the arguments you did. Language acquisition is one of the best examples of human critical periods known to modern science.

  180. Gosh that seems like a reasonable comment. Boy there are things there I’d engage with from someone else.

    But from this guy, I know it’s a trap, so I won’t.

  181. John, my 221 was typed before I saw your 220. But clarification: do you mean the synaptic purge/brain development branch, or the socialism != fascism branch, or (I deeply hope) both?

  182. OK. You know, this could have been a very interesting discussion, with both sides learning (especially me) if he had disagreed with me and said why here, instead of calling me a moron on his own site and “politely” linking to it. He knows some things I didn’t/don’t and would like to, and the reverse (much as he’d never listen to a “moron”) is also true, but just by getting nasty in that smarmy way, he spoiled the possibility of that more interesting conversation happening.

    It would still have been far off topic, though. But I think it’s an interesting object lesson.

  183. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I think the whole “Obama is a socialist” meme simply got started as payback for the “Bush is a fascist” meme. Both are equally false.

    Cheney is the fascist. Bush was just a sock-puppet.

  184. Hmm, I tend to agree, Bozo, but phenomenologically, isn’t the sock puppet of a fascist still effectively a fascist?

  185. Trust me, hailing from Europe Obama doesn’t look *anything* like a socialist. I think, politically, on that axis our right-most party is to the left of him… and they are not socialists either.

  186. Thank you so much for articulating for so long what I have been trying to tell these morons. I’m not saying this because I’m an Obama fan but because I’m not a fan of morons. Obama is no where near what a socialist is. Socialists laugh at the though of Obama being considered a socialist. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ve heard him called a nazi socialist which makes my mind swirl. We all know in WW II nazis LOVED commies and socialists so that sentence makes perfect sense right?! Morons…..

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